Staff Editorial

Taxpayers shouldn't cover Branstad's appeal

Chris Godfrey, former Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner, testifies Friday in his anti-gay discrimination lawsuit against former Gov. Terry Branstad, who cut his pay in half in an effort to get him to resign. Godfrey testified on Friday, June 21, 2019, at a courtroom in Newton, Iowa. (Stephen Gruber-Miller/Des Moines Register)
Chris Godfrey, former Iowa Workers' Compensation Commissioner, testifies Friday in his anti-gay discrimination lawsuit against former Gov. Terry Branstad, who cut his pay in half in an effort to get him to resign. Godfrey testified on Friday, June 21, 2019, at a courtroom in Newton, Iowa. (Stephen Gruber-Miller/Des Moines Register)

State Auditor Rob Sand says Iowa taxpayers shouldn’t pay another dime to defend former Gov. Terry Branstad from legal action spawned by his effort to push the state’s workers’ compensation commissioner out of office in 2011. We agree, and urge Iowa’s Executive Council to take his advice.

Earlier this year the former commissioner, Chris Godfrey, was awarded $1.5 million by a Polk County jury that concluded Branstad discriminated against Godfrey because he is gay. Taxpayers have bankrolled Branstad’s defense through years of legal maneuvering and may be on the hook for millions of dollars more. Total legal fees may approach $6 million.

Sand contends taxpayers should not be asked to pay for an appeal to the Iowa Supreme Court. The Des Moines Register reports Sand shared his view in a letter last week to the Executive Council, made up of Gov. Kim Reynolds, Treasurer Mike Fitzgerald, Sec. of Agriculture Mike Naig, Sec. of State Paul Pate and Sand. The auditor and Fitzgerald are the only Democrats on the panel.

We’re under no illusion Republicans on the council will vote to cut off the former GOP governor’s appeal. But they should, because this case has been a waste of taxpayer money from the beginning.

Godfrey was in the middle of a six-year term leading a well-regarded workers’ compensation system when Branstad was elected in 2010. Rather than respect the fact that some state jobs are shielded from political pressure for good reason, Branstad demanded Godfrey resign. When he refused, Branstad slashed his salary. Godfrey took his case to the courts.

Branstad hoped to appoint a commissioner more acceptable to his corporate political allies and less sympathetic to injured workers. That misguided effort to put a thumb on the scales of justice has proved very costly. Perhaps Branstad’s business friends could step up to pay for his appeal.

Iowa taxpayers are getting fed up with being handed the bill for wrongdoing. Millions of dollars have been paid out in awards and settlements for sexual misconduct claims in the legislative and executive branches. Taxpayers, for example, covered $4 million in settlement payments tied to charges of sexual misconduct leveled at David Jamison, the former director of the Iowa Finance Authority. Ousted Department of Human Services Director Jerry Foxhoven is seeking $2 million for wrongful termination. Reynolds has refused to explain why she asked him to resign.

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Branstad abused power in pressuring Godfrey to quit. A jury found he discriminated. It’s time, past time, for Iowans to stop covering the high cost of defending the indefensible.

Comments: (319) 398-8262; editorial@thegazette.com

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