Iowa trial begins over alleged discrimination by ex-governor

DES MOINES (AP) — Eight jurors will decide whether former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad discriminated against an ex-state official because he’s gay in a civil case that began Wednesday and is expected to call two other former governors to the witness stand.
Branstad’s attorney, Frank Harty, said the case will center on Branstad’s return to government in 2010 and his wish to replace Chris Godfrey as the Iowa Workers’ Compensation Commissioner as the newly elected governor to surround himself with people who shared his political goals.
During his opening remarks, Harty told the jury that “elections in consequences” and the team of Democrats that Godfrey belonged to lost to the Republican Branstad and they didn’t want to accept defeat.
Harty also referred to Godfrey as “a lightning rod who earned the disdain and distrust of the business community” due to policies he implemented as commissioner and worker-friendly legislation he pushed. Branstad campaigned for governor before the 2010 election with an agenda seen as friendly to business owners.
Godfrey’s attorney, Roxanne Conlin, said her client had every right to stay in the job to which he was appointed for a six-year term. By law, the commissioner’s term overlaps that of the governor. Godfrey had four more years left on his term when Branstad returned to office in 2011.
Former Democratic Govs. Tom Vilsack and Chet Culver are on the witness list to discuss how they handled the commissioner appointment and its role in their administrations. Vilsack appointed Godfrey to the position in 2006. Culver reappointed him in 2009 and he was confirmed by the Iowa Senate to a six-year term.
Since Godfrey couldn’t be fired and he refused to quit, Conlin said that Branstad cut his pay by $39,000. Godfrey also claimed that after he complained he thought the actions were taken because he was gay, he was further mistreated.
“He was ostracized and shunned daily,” Conlin said. “He was treated as unwelcome and unwanted.”
Conlin added that Godfrey was the only executive in Branstad’s tenure to have his pay cut to the lowest possible level.
Branstad has claimed he didn’t know Godfrey was gay at the time of the pay cut, but Conlin plans to introduce witnesses and evidence to suggest otherwise.
“Discrimination is rarely admitted, so it must be proven through circumstantial evidence,” she told jurors.
Branstad’s then-Chief of Staff Jeff Boeyink was the first witness called to testify on Wednesday.
The ex-governor will return from his current job as U.S. Ambassador to China to testify on June 14.