Terry Branstad this morning said his job as governor was “to listen to the people” and Branstad said he asked the state Workers Compensation Commissioner to resign shortly after the 2010 election after hearing complaints from Iowa’s business community.
“The people of Iowa had chosen a new governor and I had run on a platform focused on jobs, raising family incomes, restoring fiscal responsibility,” Branstad said, “and I thought it was important that I have a team that supported that.”
In 2012, Workers Compensation Commissioner Christopher Godfrey filed a discrimination lawsuit against the former Republican governor and two top Branstad aides, arguing he’d been pressured to resign because he is gay. In 2014, Godfrey left state government to become the chief judge of the federal board that decides employee compensation appeals, but he did not drop his lawsuit. The case went to trial before a jury in a Des Moines courtroom this month.
Branstad has previously said he did not know Godfrey was gay. During the trial this month, Godfrey’s legal team has sought to highlight the political atmosphere seven years ago, when the platform from Branstad’s political party opposed same-sex marriage.
“When you appointed people to state offices, did you try and choose people who you believed would share your values?” Paige Fiedler, Godfrey’s attorney, asked Branstad this morning.
Branstad replied: “I tried to pick the most qualified people that I thought would serve the people of Iowa in the best way.”
Fiedler continued: “Did you also try and choose people who you felt shared your values to try and do that?”
Branstad replied: “I looked for inclusiveness and diversity and the best people I could find.”
Fiedler also asked Branstad how he evaluated Godfrey’s performance and, specifically, why he decided in 2011 to cut Godfrey’s salary by a third — at the bottom of the pay scale the Iowa legislature established for the role of workers compensation commissioner.
“We’d gotten a tremendous amount of concern expressed by the big organizations like the Iowa Association of Business and Industry, the Iowa Motor Truck Association and individual employers from around the state,” Branstad said. “…I felt that a salary at the top of the range, certainly considering all of these problems about performance, was not appropriate.”
During his morning testimony, Branstad discussed what he described as a “fairly harsh” review of court rulings related to some of the workers compensation decisions from Godfrey’s office. The review was prepared for Branstad by the then-governor’s legal counsel, who is among those named in Godfrey’s lawsuit and who testified earlier in the week.
Branstad, in questioning by Fiedler, admitted he and Godfrey spoke in person just once. The former governor said he was unaware of statistics about the number of cases Godfrey’s office processed and how business fees for workers compensation claims had declined during Godfrey’s tenure.
The judge released the jury for an hour and 15 minute lunch break before an afternoon session with Branstad still on the witness stand.
Des Moines attorney Roxanne Conlin, Branstad’s Democratic opponent in 1982, has guided this case through the court system for the past seven years, but she is not in the courtroom today. Conlin became ill last Friday, complaining of the air quality in the Polk County Courthouse, which is under renovation. Fiedler said Conlin is feeling better, but under doctor’s advice is not coming back into the building until renovations are complete.