Iowa GOP creating a friendly workplace, for lawyers

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So we the taxpayers are officially paying the $1.75 million bill to settle a sexual harassment lawsuit leveled against Republicans who run the Iowa Senate. This past summer, a jury awarded former Senate GOP communications staffer Kirsten Anderson $2.2 million.

With the settlement, approved this week, we’re getting a discount. Feel better?

You should, because, according to Senate Majority Leader Bill Dix, R-Shell Rock, this sort of thing is just business as usual.

In the wake of the settlement, Dix, according to Des Moines Register columnist Kathie Obradovich, argued “this kind of thing happens all the time across state government.” Lewd conduct, women being asked about their breast size and comments about teenage pages’ skirt lengths?

Oh no, Dix’s staff later insisted. He simply meant these sort of legal settlements are common. And it’s true, Republican management practices have provided lucrative work for lawyers.

Consider the nearly $1 million we’ve paid, so far, to defend former Gov. Terry Branstad, current Gov. Kim Reynolds and other administration officials from a lawsuit filed by former Workers’ Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey. Branstad, on behalf of his big business pals, tried to shove Godfrey out of office in 2010 in the middle of the commissioner’s six-year term. Reynolds voted in the state Senate to confirm Godfrey.

When Godfrey refused to quit, the Branstad administration slashed his salary. Godfrey sued, and this summer, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled his lawsuit can move forward.

There’s also the case of Susan Ackerman. She was among a group of administrative law judges in the Department of Workforce Development who claimed now-former director Theresa Wahlert pressured them to settle cases in favor of businesses. Not long after detailing those allegations before a legislative committee, she was fired. Ackerman filed a lawsuit.

Later, she was slapped with a dubious fraud charge tied to her effort to get health insurance coverage for her daughter. In June, a judge tossed the charge, concluding Ackerman “was subjected to retaliatory, selective, and/or vindictive treatment by the state.” Her lawsuit is moving forward.

We also learned in 2014, much to the “surprise” of the former governor, that multiple departing state employees had been paid secret settlements approaching $700,000. Some took money in exchange for their silence.

And in 2017, the GOP-controlled Legislature rushed to gut collective bargaining rights for public employees. Litigation followed. And once the legislation hobbles their union, harassed employees will stand alone against bosses like Dix, who still claims Anderson was fired for poor performance.

At least we’ve got Republican State Auditor Mary Mosiman. After voting with the state Appeals Board to approve the harassment settlement, Mosiman apologized to Anderson. It’s a long-overdue gesture that should have come from Reynolds. Instead, she spoke weakly of “zero tolerance” and stood by Dix.

The governor picked politics over doing the right thing. But don’t worry, it happens all the time.

l Comments: (319) 398-8262; todd.dorman@thegazette.com

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