Former Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad testified Friday in a civil trial that he didn’t try to pressure a state official to quit in 2010 because he is gay but because he wanted someone who shared his political views about the state’s needs.
Branstad, a Republican who is now the U.S. ambassador to China, returned to Des Moines to testify for one day in the trial in which he’s accused of discriminating against former Iowa Worker’s Compensation Commissioner Chris Godfrey, who is a Democrat and is openly gay.
After being elected governor in 2010, Branstad sought Godfrey’s resignation and cut his pay by $39,000 when he refused. Godfrey, who was appointed to a six-year term by Democratic Gov. Chet Culver, sued in 2012, saying he was a victim of discrimination and retaliation.
Branstad testified he didn’t know Godfrey was gay until after cutting his salary and being threatened with a lawsuit.
“I have always treated everyone, gay or straight, with respect and dignity. That’s the way I have always operated,” Branstad said.
As worker’s compensation commissioner, Godfrey decided disputes between businesses and injured workers.
Branstad said he’d heard from business groups that Godfrey wasn’t fair.
Paige Fiedler, a lawyer for Godfrey, repeatedly asked Branstad if she evaluated Godfrey’s performance or sought the opinions of anyone other than those in the business community who had complained.
Branstad responded, “Well, a number of people did and I don’t know if they were business owners or not.”
Although Branstad was opposed to a 2009 Iowa Supreme Court ruling that legalized gay marriage in the state, Branstad said he now support rights for lesbians, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
“People have accepted it and I support it,” he said.
The trial began June 5 and will continue in Polk County District Court next week.