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Civic Skinny

Twist: Branstad calls Godfrey suit harassment, says Godfrey should pay those LaMarca bills.

1/7/2015

Gov. Terry Branstad and his fellow defendants in the long and nasty harassment, discrimination, extortion, retaliation and defamation lawsuit filed by former Workers Compensation Director Chris Godfrey, want to turn the tables.

If Godfrey wins, besides any damages he might be awarded he will in all likelihood recover from taxpayers his legal fees, which probably will be around $1 million, and the taxpayers — or possibly the defendants themselves — also will pick up the fees for Branstad and the others, which also are likely to be around $1 million. If he loses, his lawyer, Roxanne Conlin, presumably will eat her fees, as Godfrey is not a wealthy guy, and the taxpayers presumably will pick up Branstad’s fees.

But in the latest twist in the meandering, three-year-old lawsuit, lawyers for Branstad and the others have told the court the litigation is “frivolous” and “was contrived for the purpose of harassing and oppressing” the defendants. Because of that, the new court filings say, Godfrey should have to pay “reasonable attorney’s fees” to the defendants.

To date, the state has paid out — reasonably or unreasonably — $648,140.93 in fees to George LaMarca and his colleagues, the private attorneys representing Branstad and the others at taxpayers’ expense.

Besides Branstad, the defendants are Lt. Gov. Kim Reynolds; director of Iowa Workforce Development Teresa Wahlert; Jeff Boeyink, the governor’s former chief of staff; Tim Albrecht, the governor’s former communications director; and Brenna Findley, the legal counsel to the governor.

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The lawsuit was filed three years ago, on Jan. 11, 2012, after the Governor cut Godfrey’s pay by about $40,000 following Godfrey’s refusal to resign. Godfrey, the only openly gay department head in the Branstad administration, is a Democrat who was appointed to his job in 2006 and was twice confirmed overwhelmingly by the Iowa senate. He had a set term that was not to expire until April of this year, but Branstad very much wanted to get rid of him — though the Governor has said he had no idea Godfrey was gay, a fact widely known in the state government.

Godfrey resigned last fall to become chief judge and chairman of the Employees Compensation Appeals Board of the United States Department of Labor in Washington.

The flurry of motions has heated up in recent weeks — a hearing on a couple of them is set for this week — and the language has become a little snippy. In a motion filed last week, Conlin referred to “defendants’ uncooperative attitude and discovery abuses,” and she said “allowing defendants to profit from its (sic) own recalcitrance is unacceptable.”

Know your client: In a filing in the Godfrey suit on Dec. 22, George LaMarca states, among other things: “Defendants…affirmatively state that [Branstad] is a resident of Boone, Boone County, Iowa.” Well, not really, According to Jimmy Centers, Branstad’s spokesman, the Governor “is registered to vote in Polk County, where he resides in the governor’s mansion. He owns a home in Guthrie County. He no longer owns a home in Boone County.” …

The sudden firing of Paritosh Kasotia, head of the energy office at the Iowa Economic Development Authority and an expert on alternative energy, could spill over to the Iowa Energy Center. Kasotia has been on the advisory council of the center, which was created by the Legislature in 1990 and is administered through Iowa State University.

The center has become vigorous in helping develop alternative energy solutions for Iowans since Mark Petri took over two years ago, and she has been a strong supporter on the council. Some utility executives apparently view all this as a potential threat to their business, and they would like the center’s structure changed so that it becomes a quasi independent agency with a reconstituted governing board — not an advisory board — that presumably would give them more say in the policies and grants and low-interest loans. It’s messy and bitter and politically explosive, says a person who is watching closely. CV

 

Comment: Art Neu

In the mid-1970s, when I was editor of The Des Moines Register and Art Neu was lieutenant governor of the state, we would get together regularly for early-morning breakfast.

He was a font of knowledge about politics and the legislature and the ways and rules of governing — in those days, the lieutenant governor was also the presiding officer of the state senate — and he was a clear-eyed observer of the world as well as a wonderfully witty companion. He saw the absurdities in life — especially political life — and used them as fodder to tell great stories, often on himself.

One morning around 6 a.m., we were in a basement eatery on Locust Street. We were the only customers in the place, and we were talking, as usual, about Iowa. “You know Iowa really well,” I said at one point. “What’s the crappiest town in the state?” He looked around, saw that the tables were empty, and instantly replied. “Leon,” he said.

Just then the young waitress appeared with the coffee pot. She looked crestfallen. “Leon!” she said, “that’s my hometown!”

“And that’s why I’ll never be governor,” Neu said quietly.

And that is why he never was governor. He was too frank, too honest, too blunt and maybe too caring to get elected or even nominated. He grew up as the mayor’s son in Carroll, went off to Northwestern and the Army and then came home to practice law in the family firm and take over the family mantle of public service, serving six years in the Iowa senate — becoming expert on the state’s education and environmental needs — and then six years as lieutenant governor.

In those 12 years, 1967 to 1979, he was probably the smartest person on Capitol Hill. Clearly one of the most modest. And certainly among the most caring.

Always, he put people over politics, especially the downtrodden. He was a champion of people who needed a champion.

Art Neu — who died last week of pneumonia at age 81 — was a Republican, though I suspect in recent years he voted for more than a few Democrats. He was a Republican of the kind that is rare in this state today — moderate if not downright liberal on social issues, sound and sensible on economic issues, civil and civilized on political issues. He was the kind of Republican who raised money for the Iowa Civil Liberties Union or the Legal Aid folks.

That brand of Republican once ran the state and the nation. The compassionate Bob Ray — the man who brought the Laotians to Iowa — was governor for 14 years, and part of that time, from 1973 to 1979, Neu was his lieutenant governor. In those days, lieutenant governors ran independently, not on a ticket with a governor, but Ray and Neu usually spoke as one, as one who cared about everyone and everything in this state. (Neu particularly cared about Carroll, a gene inherited from his father, and he worked skillfully, tirelessly, and successfully to get a community-college campus there, to ensure the town had a great hospital, and to bring in industry.)

The party changed dramatically after he left office — he chose not to seek re-election — and it bothered him a lot. The Tea Party folks were by and large idiots, he thought. (“Idiot” was worse than “jerk,” the other strong word in his political lexicon.) But until shown otherwise, he would always hold out hope for a Republican candidate. Though he endorsed the occasional Democrat — most notably Barack Obama and Christie Vilsack — he never turned his back on his party.

But the party turned its back on him. When Neu left the lieutenant governorship, Bob Ray appointed him to the Board of Regents. But Terry Branstad — who succeeded Neu as lieutenant governor and then succeed Ray as Governor — didn’t reappoint him. Neu was deeply interested in the welfare of prisoners and the conditions in the state’s prisons, and he worked hard to improve things during years on the Board of Corrections. He threw himself into that work and was widely admired, yet three years ago Branstad refused his request to be reappointed.

He left his mark on this state because he always answered the bell. If Carroll needed someone to make a case for a grant, a new plant, a bond issue — there’d be former mayor Art Neu, armed with facts and figures, making his case, listening, negotiating, and then making another good deal for his hometown. If the state needed a smart guy to help launch Iowa Public Radio, there’d be former Lt. Gov. Art Neu, willing to step in as chairman and help form the strategy and the vision to merge the universities’ stations.

And if a guy just wanted to have a great lunch talking politics, learning about Iowa, and listening to funny stories, there’d be Art Neu, saying sure, he’d be happy to drive over to Des Moines on a wintry day.

At one of those lunches, not too long ago, we were talking about that breakfast on Locust Street. He’d been thinking about it, he said. “You know, Leon is not the worst town in Iowa.”

He didn’t elaborate. CV

— Michael Gartner

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