BISMARCK — North Dakota's Republican House leadership called for the resignation of Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, Friday, Feb. 26, after a slew of sexual harassment and other misconduct allegations against the lawmaker surfaced over the last two days.
"The actions of Representative Simons this week were wrong," wrote House Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, and Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser, R-Minot, in a statement that called on Simons to step down and cited records showing "a pattern of behavior that we do not tolerate and that violate our rules against workplace harassment."
The statement also said that the Legislature would weigh the possibility of expulsion if Simons refuses to step down voluntarily. The Dickinson lawmaker has so far adamantly denied the bulk of the allegations.
The call for resignation comes after the Legislative Council, lawmakers' nonpartisan legal and research team that aids in the drafting of bills, released a 14-page file on Thursday that documented reports of sexual harassment and threats by Simons against female staffers and interns dating back to 2017.
Among other points divulged, the file indicated that Simons had been instructed not to work with female members of the Legislative Council. The document also noted multiple reports of Simons, who is married with five children, making sexually suggestive comments to interns and staff, in one case commenting on a female staffer's appearance, attempting to give her a shoulder massage and talking to her about shopping for thongs at Victoria's Secret.
The records of prior allegations against Simons came to light after he used profanity in a confrontation with two Democratic lawmakers in the Capitol cafeteria on Tuesday.
Simons did not immediately respond to The Forum's request for comment on Friday. He has publicly apologized for this week's cafeteria confrontation but maintained that many of the complaints detailed in the Legislative Council file are false. He has also dismissed the report as a politically-motivated attack by "liberals" on the legislative legal team.
"I have made political enemies because of my very conservative voting record," he told the Dickinson Press on Thursday. "Because they can’t beat me in facts and because we are gaining a lot of ground in the North Dakota Capitol, they have to attack your character and that’s exactly what’s happening."
In the House leadership statement released Friday, Pollert called Simons' claims that staff and other lawmakers had lied about his misconduct "inexcusable."
The call for Simons' resignation by Republican leadership was echoed on Friday in statements from the North Dakota GOP and members of both parties.
"This step is the consequence of Rep. Simons' years-long history of disturbing behavior toward legislators, legislative staff, state employees, lobbyists and citizens that came to light this week," Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, one of the lawmakers accosted by Simons in the cafeteria this week, wrote in a post on Facebook.
"I’m pleased to be able to say that the ND House Republican Caucus has called for Rep Luke Simons’ resignation after multiple allegations of abusive and harassing behavior," Rep. Shannon Roers Jones, R-Fargo, said on Twitter.
House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, backed Pollert's decision to call for resignation, and said on Twitter that the process to censure Simons would likely come with a vote for expulsion if he opts not to resign.
The Democratic-NPL Party also called on Simons to resign, but criticized Republican leadership for not taking stronger action the first time they learned of complaints against the lawmaker.
"Each time they were informed of Rep. Simon’s exceedingly inappropriate actions, Rep. Pollert and Rep. Louser downplayed the severity, brushed off the behavior, and gave Luke Simons free reign to exercise his deviant harassment," said Democratic-NPL Chairwoman Kylie Oversen in a statement.
The file released by the Legislative Council showed that Pollert and other members of Republican leadership had previously been made aware of some of the complaints against Simons. Pollert told The Forum that he and others in leadership confronted Simons about those complaints in 2019, and said he met with the Legislative Council about implementing a policy to prevent Simons from working with female staffers without someone else present.
"While we have previously worked with various individuals to resolve issues with Representative Simons' inappropriate behavior, it is clear further action must be taken," the majority leader wrote in Friday's statement.
Pollert told The Forum that he did not directly discuss the call for resignation with Simons ahead of its release because the lawmaker declined to talk about the controversy further without his attorney present. Because Simons said that meeting would not be possible until late in the day on Friday, Pollert said he opted to move forward with the call for resignation.
"I did not want this going any further than today," he said.
Readers can reach reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at email@example.com.