BISMARCK, N.D. — The North Dakota House on Thursday took an unprecedented step and booted a lawmaker accused of threatening and sexually harassing women at the Capitol.
The Republican-controlled chamber voted 69-25 on a resolution to expel GOP Rep. Luke Simons. marking the first time since statehood a lawmaker has been kicked out of the Legislature.
Republicans hold an 80-14 advantage in the chamber. Sixty-three members of the House were needed to approve the expulsion resolution.
Simons, who has denied wrongdoing and refused Republican leaders’ calls for him to resign, is accused of a pattern of sexually aggressive, lewd, and threatening behaviour , dating back to shortly after he took office in 2017.
The resolution to expel Simons was crafted by Democratic and Republican House leaders.
Simons has said the allegations “have been totally misconstrued and taken out of context.”
A 14-page document compiled by the nonpartisan Legislative Council includes allegations that Simons made “advances” toward female staffers and interns, commented on their appearances and tried to give one staffer an unsolicited shoulder massage. One staffer described his behaviour as “really creepy.”
Republican Rep. Emily O’Brien issued a statement last week saying that his harassment was so pervasive that she switched desks to get away from him.
The Legislative Council this week released two additional documents alleging inappropriate and bizarre behaviour by Simons, a 43-year-old rancher and barber who is married and has five children. One woman said Simons referred to her as “that pretty one,” and insulted her husband, “saying that usually women who are classy dressers like myself are married to shmucks like my husband.”
The woman, whose name was redacted in documents, also alleged that Simons once placed his lunch box in her office before leaving to use the restroom and said, “bet you hope there’s not a bomb in there, huh.”
Simons is a member of the loosely organized Bastiat Caucus, a far-right group that supports limited government and gun rights. He has insisted on social media that he’s being targeted for his politics.
Simons’ attorney, Lynn Boughey, said he believes the House cannot expel Simons, and beyond censure, can only impeach him, which would require a Senate trial.
Legislative leaders and their lawyers note the North Dakota Constitution says either chamber can expel a member with two-thirds approval.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. AP’s earlier story follows below.
A North Dakota Republican House member facing expulsion for allegedly sexually harassing women at the Capitol told lawmakers Thursday that any of them could be in his position.
A defiant Rep. Luke Simons, who has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign, blamed his accusers for “twisting my words” and lawmakers for not affording him due process.
“I could make any accusation against any of you," Simons said ahead of the vote. “Under this circumstance we are under, you’re guilty.”
Simons is accused of a pattern of sexually aggressive, lewd, and threatening behaviour , dating back to shortly after he took office in 2017. Republican Rep. Emily O’Brien has said that his harassment was so pervasive that she switched desks to get away from him.
“Prior to coming forward, I struggled with whether this was something I wanted to relive,” she told fellow House members. “It is hard to rehash the unwarranted, disturbing and uncomfortable experiences. I think ‘shame on you, Emily O’Brien, for not coming forward and being a voice for others.’”
Responded Simons, "They have twisted my words. I believe in a North Dakota you are innocent until proven guilty.”
Republican Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, an attorney, said on the floor Thursday that the move to remove Simons is about inappropriate behaviour , not about targeting a political ideology, as Simons has alleged. Simons, a barber and rancher, is a member of the loosely organized Bastiat Caucus, a far-right group that supports limited government and gun rights.
“We have moved women away from him, we have limited his ability to work with them, but in doing that we are also punishing the women," Roers Jones said. "When we move women or restrict who they work with, we are limiting a woman’s ability to do her jobs, and thereby limiting her ability to advance because of the actions of one member.”
Democratic House Minority Leader Josh Boschee of Fargo, who co-sponsored the resolution, looked at Simons and said, “You have hurt people. You have hurt the integrity of the legislative assembly.”
Boschee added, “We have to make a statement to do better.”
The North Dakota Constitution says either chamber can expel a member with two-thirds approval. That would mean 63 members of the House would need to approve. Republicans hold an 80-14 advantage in the chamber.
Opponents of the resolution said the process was flawed and that Simons was not afforded due process. House Majority Leader Chet Pollert said the process to expel Simons went “above and beyond what is legally required.”
GOP Rep. Rick Becker, who heads the Bastiat Caucus, said there was not “enough for expulsion” and wanted to amend the resolution to a censure but it was defeated 66-28.
Pollert, the majority leader, urged the House to defeat the amendment.
“This censure does not go far enough,” Pollert said. “It doesn’t even look like a slap on the wrist.”
A vote was expected later Thursday.
James MacPherson, The Associated Press