In my seven years serving in the Iowa House, I have come to appreciate the power and effectiveness of incremental change to accomplish policy objectives. My lack of patience makes this difficult to accept, but the reality is that it can sometimes be an effective approach to accomplishing major, fundamental changes. I have seen its success. Without incrementalism, we would not have Constitutional Carry, the Heartbeat Bill, Judicial Nomination Reform, prohibitions against state taxpayer dollars going to abortion providers, and a list of other legislative accomplishments in support of our founding values.
More than a decade ago, 2nd Amendment advocacy groups wanted to secure the right of Iowans to carry a handgun for their protection. At the beginning of this debate, those who trusted government more than free men and women, swore that there would be blood in the streets and the Wild West if Iowans were allowed to carry weapons concealed on their persons. Lacking the votes a decade ago, the Legislature passed “May Issue,” meaning that local law enforcement could approve a Permit to Carry a weapon on a case-by-case basis, but it was solely up to their discretion. This meant that law enforcement could also disapprove permits, and many did at first. This was an imperfect start at best, but it paved the way for the next debate – “Shall Issue.”
After a few years passed and Iowa did not become The Wild West as some predicted, “Shall Issue” was passed, meaning that absent a lawful reason that a person could not possess a firearm, local law enforcement had to issue a Permit To Carry, once certain training requirements were met. Once again came the cries of blood in the streets and The Wild West, and once again this was not a perfect solution, because Iowans still had to get a permission slip from government to exercise their constitutional rights. Yet, had this step not been taken, the next accomplishment would not have taken place – “Constitutional Carry.”
In the 2021 Legislative Session, I floor-managed “Constitutional Carry” to passage. Building upon a decade of work and several imperfect but essential pieces of legislation that preceded it, “Constitutional Carry” meant that Iowans could now exercise their fundamental 2nd Amendment rights without the need for a permission slip. This advancement for liberty was also not perfect and work remains, but this major step forward would not have been possible without the incremental steps that came before it.
The same can be said of our fight to protect our unborn children through changes in the law that led up to the passage of the Heartbeat bill a few years ago that outlawed abortion once a heartbeat was detected. When this profoundly important legislation was overturned by an activist Iowa Supreme Court and a fundamental right to abortion was established, we passed Judicial Nomination Reform to give constructionist judges in Iowa a better chance at being placed on the bench, and we are moving forward with the Life Amendment in response to the egregious judicial overreach that struck down our Heartbeat protections and 72-hour waiting period. After years of effort, the Legislature also ended state taxpayer money going to Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
In each of these cases, those who advocated for the one-time pure and perfect solution would oppose those who understood it was important to take the meaningful win and fight on to accomplish the complete objective, if in fact the more perfect solution was not possible at the time. In each of these cases, the successes achieved would not have been realized were it not for an incremental approach – making forward progress while fighting for more, advancing the conversation to the next phase, as opposed to doing nothing and not advancing the objective or the conversation.
In speaking to advocates involved in the Legislature near the beginning of the abortion battle, I am told that it was a major accomplishment just to get legislators willing to keep data on the number of abortions in Iowa, let alone taking action to end abortion. The initial steps had to be taken to move the conversation forward, as is the case for many controversial issues. Our Founders wisely devised a system that abhors quick change and instead demands a consensus be built over time, creating greater stability in government and in society. This process has been damaged in recent years by activist court decisions that did not respect the importance of our legislative process, leading to societal conflict on a host of issues.
In each of the successes in which incrementalism was necessary to advance the objective and the conversation, had legislators listened to the “all or nothing voices,” the result would have indeed been nothing. Advocacy groups such as the Iowa Firearms Coalition and the NRA understand the importance of taking a meaningful win and coming back for more in the future. This is a proven path to success, as we have seen with the many advances of 2nd Amendment liberties in Iowa. It takes time, but it is time well spent.
I believe we are in the beginning stages of a meaningful debate on medical freedom, brought about as a result of the COVID mandates being pushed by the federal government and some in business. This may be the silver-lining of the coercive and harmful federal mandates causing so much anger and fear in our nation. While immediate action was necessary to respond to the unconstitutional Biden COVID vaccine mandates, through legislation passed and numerous lawsuits filed, with more to follow as the ever-evolving facts dictate, a larger debate has been joined regarding the rights of free men and women to decide what is injected into their bodies. As this debate moves forward it is likely that fundamental change beyond the narrow COVID controversy could happen incrementally, if that is the consensus that develops.