Top North Dakota House Republicans are calling for a lawmaker of their own party to resign after legislative staff reports of threats and sexual harassment came to light this week.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser, R-Minot, and House Caucus Chair Rep. Glenn Bosch, R-Bismarck, called on second-term Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, "to resign from his seat."
"Should he refuse, the Legislature will weigh all the information and options, including expulsion, and make a determination when we reconvene after crossover. We want to make clear that this behavior will not be accepted at the Legislature," Pollert said.
"We will also be establishing a more formal reporting process between Leadership and Legislative Council that will increase awareness of instances involving legislators while also preserving victim confidentiality," he continued.
Crossover is the Legislature's midsession break, after which bills passed by the House and Senate cross over to the opposite chamber. Lawmakers are to return Wednesday.
Pollert told the Tribune that he, Louser and Bosch asked Simons by phone to resign about 30 minutes before releasing the statement. The House majority leader said Simons declined to discuss anything with them unless he had an attorney present. Pollert said he doesn't know what Simons will do next.
Legislative Council, the Legislature’s nonpartisan research agency of financial and legal experts, released a 14-page file Thursday with reports and emails documenting female staff members’ and interns’ uncomfortable encounters with Simons, who is reported to have threatened and sexually harassed them.
The file includes allegations that Simons made "advances" toward female staffers and interns, commented on women's appearances, attempted to give one female staffer a shoulder massage and told a female staffer a story about shopping for thongs at Victoria's Secret.
Bjornson said female staff members have been told they don't have to work with Simons.
The file’s release came after a profane outburst in the Capitol cafeteria in which Simons cursed at two Democratic-NPL lawmakers over him not wearing a face mask. He later apologized for the incident, but he disputed the reports of sexual harassment, saying, “you're guilty these days without a trial.”
Simons on Thursday told the Tribune “The people that know me in my area know that I wouldn't talk like that,” and that "This is nothing more than a liberal agenda to attack conservative legislators.”
He did not immediately respond Friday to Tribune requests for comment on leadership's call for him to resign.
The barber and rancher who is married and has five children was first elected in 2016, and he won reelection in 2020 with 39% of the vote in a five-way race. He's a member of the loosely organized Bastiat Caucus, a far-right group that supports limited government and gun rights.
In a Facebook post late Thursday, he said "Never give up, never give in, never say sorry for being conservative."
The state Republican Party issued a statement Friday saying "we fully support any action the House leaders deem appropriate."
North Dakota’s Democratic-NPL Party on Thursday called Simons “unfit to hold public office.”
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, told the Tribune on Thursday that he had asked Legislative Council to begin drafting an article of censure, and that he was working with Pollert to determine what the sanctions would be to hold Simons accountable.
Boschee on Friday tweeted: "I support Leader Pollert's call for Rep. Simons to resign on his own accord and if Rep. Simons chooses not to, then we will begin the Censure process which will likely include a vote for expulsion from the House."
Removing him from office would require support from two-thirds of the GOP-controlled House. Legislative Council Director John Bjornson said there are no records of any lawmaker being expelled from the Legislature in at least a century.
The Democratic Party also criticized Pollert and Louser for not addressing Simons' alleged behavior earlier, saying they had "opted to do nothing and protect the abuser." Party Chairwoman Kylie Oversen in a statement on Friday said "We are left to wonder how many people would have been spared this unconscionable pattern of exploitation and mistreatment, or perhaps how many more would have been at-risk had the public been left unaware.”
The statement sent by Pollert said he and Louser "have always encouraged anyone with concerns about inappropriate behavior to come talk to us and to file a complaint if they so choose. While we have previously worked with various individuals to resolve issues with Representative Simons' inappropriate behavior, it is clear further action must be taken.
"Therefore, as of today, we are calling on Representative Simons to resign from his seat."
Should Simons resign, District 36 Republicans' executive committee would name a replacement.
Allegations of inappropriate comments from Simons date to 2018, but no formal harassment complaints have been filed.
Legislative leaders in 2018 adopted a workplace harassment policy that outlines a process for handling complaints, including investigation procedures. Lawmakers are trained on the policy in their December organizational session every two years.
Sen. Kathy Hogan, D-Fargo, who led the policy’s drafting process, said the procedures came about after serious workplace sexual harassment allegations in other states and the national “Me Too” movement of women sharing details of their encounters of sexual harassment and assault.
“I think what we have learned this week is that we have to go and revisit all of these guidelines," Hogan said.
The Simons reports are "the first concern" Hogan is aware of since the policy was written. House and Senate rules committees could begin a review process in March, she said.
The Simons reports are "a situation that is worth having a group look at all of the complaints to see if there’s a pattern, because in traditional workplace harassment cases, a pattern of behavior is different than one incident,” Hogan said. “And so I think this is a time for us to say, ‘OK, what does our policy and guidelines say we’re supposed to do? Are we doing what we’re supposed to do, and what are the consequences now?'"
Reach Jack Dura at 701-223-8482 or firstname.lastname@example.org.