Advertisement

ND lawmakers expel representative who allegedly harassed capitol lawyers

Published: Mar. 4, 2021 at 5:01 PM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

BISMARCK, N.D. (KFYR) - Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, has been expelled from the State Assembly and no longer has a seat in the North Dakota House of Representatives.

Before the State House made their decision, lawmakers were given two hours to debate the claims and persuade one another. Lawmakers spoke about their personal experiences and what they’ve witnessed.

“Today is a very somber day. We are here to discuss the actions of one of our own members. This isn’t a criminal proceeding but is the recognition that we are the only ones with the power to rein in the actions of our members,” said Rep. Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton.

It was an emotional day at the Capitol, as lawmakers spoke about what they said they endured while working with Simons.

“Being harassed is embarrassing. It shouldn’t be. I wasn’t the one who did anything wrong, but still I questioned myself about my reaction to the harassment. I think, in part, because I didn’t want to think of myself as a victim,” said Rep. Emily O’Brien, R-Grand Forks.

The opposition to the resolution didn’t deny the claims. Rather, focused on what they call “a rush job” in proceedings.

“I call on each one of you to set aside any personal opinions that you may have about the representative from district 36, and follow our duty to not consider expulsion based on accusations of harassment or misconduct that are uninvestigated and thus unproven,” said Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo.

Simons was removed from office one week after the allegations became public.

Others say the penalty didn’t match the charges.

They voted on a few amendments that would’ve decreased the charge from expulsion to censure or would’ve called for an investigation and public hearing.

“I have nothing to hide. Every one of these conversations, they have twisted my words. Some of them, not even my words. I have not rubbed any woman’s shoulders or back,” said Simons.

Those options were decisively shot down by House members.

In the end, lawmakers chose to remove the representative from Dickinson.

But there’s more work to be done.

In the meantime, Simons has threatened lawsuits, and his attorney said they could end up in the State Supreme Court.

The district party chairman will have to pick a new person to fill Simons’ seat.

Last week, the state’s Legislative Council released years’ worth of notes and documentation of interactions between Simons and legislative attorneys. The notes describe situations where Simons gave staff unsolicited shoulder massages, discussed shopping for thongs for his wife, and other “really creepy” behavior.

Simons has said in the past week, as well as in the documents, that much of the content was taken out of context and that he was “joking.”

After a tumultuous week for the lawmaker who saw documents released over sexual harassment and fellow lawmakers coming out with their own experiences trying to avoid him, Simons will return to his district as a former member of the North Dakota Assembly.

Last week, the state’s Legislative Council released years’ worth of notes and documentation of interactions between Simons and legislative attorneys. The notes describe situations where Simons gave staff unsolicited shoulder massages, discussed shopping for thongs for his wife, and other “really creepy” behavior.

Simons has said in the past week, as well as in the documents, that much of the content was taken out of context and that he was “joking.”

The documents also indicate legislative leadership, including Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, and Rep. Scott Louser, R-Minot, were aware of these allegations and had meetings with Simons for the past few years.

Leadership and Simons say they believed each claim had been resolved at the time. Simons says this is enough to clear him of any punishment from the House.

Leadership said they are reforming the complaint reporting policy, and Simons was on-track to be expelled.

After the allegations came to light, lawmakers began calling on Simons to resign and/or be punished by the governing body.

North Dakota Republicans gave him until Wednesday to resign, and said they would come out with a plan to punish him if he didn’t before reconvening on Wednesday.

Simons didn’t say the events described didn’t happen. Rather, he denied the events happening as they were described, and repeatedly threatened litigation if he is removed from his seat in the House.

This may not be the end of the Capitol’s fight with Simons. He has repeatedly threatened lawsuits against individuals if he was removed from office.

Over the two-and-a-half session Simons served, he was the primary sponsor for 13 bills mostly focusing on property rights and gun rights.

Simons is responsible for three of North Dakota’s laws.

His first was a “Cottage Foods” bill, which reformed the sales, packaging and labeling of homemade food products at farmer’s markets and other in-state sales.

In 2019, the legislature passed and the governor signed a ban on state-run gun buyback programs, and a “trigger law” on banning dismemberment abortions.

This session, Simons is the primary sponsor on a bill that exempt firearms, firearm accessories and ammunition from federal regulations if they are manufactured and remain in-state. This bill has received criticism for trying to avoid interstate commerce laws, which many lawmakers have said only opens North Dakota to federal lawsuits.

That bill passed the House and is resting in the Senate. A similar bill failed in 2017.

Copyright 2021 KFYR. All rights reserved.