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State Government News

Branstad Takes The Witness Stand To Deflect Claims Of Discrimination

Former Iowa governor and current ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, gives testimony at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines.
Des Moines Register pool photo
Former Iowa governor and current ambassador to China, Terry Branstad, gives testimony at the Polk County Courthouse in Des Moines.

Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad testified Friday that he did not discriminate against Christopher Godfrey when he asked him to resign as Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner before his six-year term was up.

Godfrey is suing Branstad, claiming he was asked to leave the position in 2011 because he is gay and that, after he declined, Branstad retaliated by slashing his salary.

On the witness stand in a full Polk County courtroom, Branstad said those decisions were not based on Godfrey’s sexuality.

“I tried to set a good example in state government that everybody would be treated fairly,” Branstad said. Godfrey’s attorney, Paige Fiedler asked whether Branstad had ever signed an executive order against discrimination based on sexual orientation while serving as governor.

“I don’t recall that we did,” Branstad said. “But that was the way I operated and that’s the way I expected everybody in state government to operate.”

Branstad, a Republican, currently serves as the U.S. ambassador to China. He said he did not know Godfrey was gay until the lawsuit was filed, but added that he has had other gay staff members including Steven Churchill, his current chief of staff at the embassy in Beijing, where Branstad says he has hosted pride month events.

Godfrey, appointed by Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, was called on to give up his role on the commission, Branstad said, largely because of his negative reputation with business owners and industry lobbyists.

“I was getting a lot of feedback that it wasn’t fair and employers were apprehensive about taking cases to the commission because they didn’t think they were going to get a fair hearing,” he said. However, when asked, Branstad said he did not ask staff to look up statistics about the number of cases brought to the commission, how many decisions were appealed or the size of claims that were awarded.

“The people of Iowa had chosen a new governor,” Branstad said. “I had run on a platform focused on jobs, raising family incomes, restoring fiscal responsibility, and I thought it was important that I have a team that supported that.”

For certain department and division leaders, the governor is allowed to set a person’s salary within a range determined by the legislature. Godfrey’s salary was reduced from the top of that range to the bottom.

The trial is expected to go on another two weeks.