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Branstad’s actions against commissioner detrimental to Iowans

Published: Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2013 11:19 a.m. CST

To the detriment of Iowa’s citizenry, political motivations, not sound judgment, far too often control the actions of our elected officials.

We the people suffer the resulting consequences of such misuse and abuse of power. Such is the case in the on-going matter involving the unprecedented action taken by Governor Branstad against Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, Chris Godfrey.

With Godfrey not yet half way through his 6-year statutory term of office Governor Branstad demanded that Godfrey submit his resignation. The Governor failed to cite or even allege “just cause” for attempting to remove the Commissioner from a statutorily fixed term of office. Godfrey refused, in my view rightfully so.

Executive Branch retaliation against Commissioner Godfrey and the Workers’ Compensation Agency immediately followed. Governor Branstad slashed Godfrey’s salary by nearly $40,000 and vetoed a legislative appropriation to the agency. Such politically motivated actions are clearly contrary to the long standing realization and legislatively recognized standard that in the arena of contested workers’ compensation cases the Commissioner must be insulated from political pressures so that fundamental fairness in an impartial environment is the guiding principle.

During his tenure as Workers’ Compensation Commissioner, both personally and agency-wide, Godfrey has steadfastly maintained this legal and ethical atmosphere and I know of no individual, group or organization who assert otherwise.

Godfrey has authored in excess of 1,000 contested case decisions since his appointment as Workers’ Compensation Commissioner. Like commissioners before him, he has adjudicated the rights and responsibilities of all interested parties being guided only by the relevant facts and applicable law, not the direction political winds might be blowing at any given time. On judicial review of Godfrey’s decisions our state’s judiciary has never called his impartiality or competency into question. The current state of affairs caused solely by Governor Branstad interjecting political pressure into the mix is, on its face, abhorrent to well-established tenets of justice.

It was my good fortune to have been appointed by Governor Branstad to serve as Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner from 1990 through 1995. Without fail Governor Branstad and his staff provided me with wise counsel and never attempted to or even hinted at exercising inappropriate influence over the actions of the Commissioner or the Workers’ Compensation Agency. To his credit as our state’s chief executive, Governor Branstad clearly understood and appreciated the principles of fairness and impartiality in the administration of justice within the workers’ compensation system.

A workers’ compensation system overtly threatened by political pressure does not serve the interests of our state’s injured workers, their employers or the insurance industry. All stakeholders must have absolute confidence that the Commissioner is unfettered by the ills of political pressure in his independent administration and enforcement of Iowa’ Workers’ Compensation Statute. I believe Governor Branstad would further the interests of his administration and all Iowans by reversing his unwarranted retribution directed at Commissioner Godfrey and ultimately Iowa’s well-balanced workers’ compensation system. I urge him to do so.

Byron K. Orton served as Iowa’s Workers’ Compensation Commissioner from 1990-1995 and as Iowa’s Labor Commissioner from 1995-2005. Governor Terry Branstad appointed Orton to both positions.