MINOT, N.D. — In a column late Wednesday night I wrote about Rep. Luke Simons' abusive behavior toward colleagues.
Women, in particular.
Majority Leader Chet Pollert, a Republican from Carrington, told me that he spoke with Fargo Democratic Rep. Karla Rose Hanson and Minority Leader Josh Boschee about Simons cursing the former out after she asked him to put on a mask in the capitol cafeteria, which was the impetus for yesterday's column. Simons answered with "f--- off" and "you're not my f------ mother," an outburst that shocked observers.
"What Rep. Boschee told me yesterday is that he talked with the two ladies involved and they said if Luke had an apology they would accept that, but if something further happens then they're expecting something from the floor, whether it be a reprimand or censure," Pollert said.
But today, based on public records obtained from Legislative Council, I can report that Simons' abusive behavior has apparently extended to multiple female attorneys and staffers who serve the Legislature, and it's a pattern that spans years.
The inappropriate comments and behaviors toward Legislative Council staff are alleged in memos dating from 2018 to this month. The incidents described include Simons, a member of the controversial and secretive Bastiat Caucus in the North Dakota House, remarking on the physical appearance of female members of staff, giving them unrequested shoulder rubs, and making crude or insulting comments.
The names of the staffers involved were redacted by Legislative Council.
A 2018 report alleged that Simons, during the 2017 legislative session, discussed shopping for thongs at Victoria's Secret with a female Legislative Council attorney, telling her his wife wears thongs and joking that he does as well.
In another 2018 incident, during a conversation with a female staffer about state law pertaining to liability, Simons used an example of taking the female staffer's shirt off while rescuing her. He also made a remark about a thoroughbred horse having a "hungry look in their eye like some women."
This staffer requested that she no longer work with Simons.
During my conversation with Simons yesterday, before I had access to these records from Legislative Council, he said of this incident: "I guess that was sexual harassment."
Simons also acknowledged at that time being restricted in terms of who he works with at Legislative Council.
In a 2019 incident, Simons allegedly offered to let a female staffer "lick and sniff" a brown stain on one of his papers which he claimed was chocolate ice cream. During the same meeting, Simons allegedly made a remark about running over the staffer's son, who he had met in her office just previously, and suggested he didn't need laws because he follows the Bible.
The staffer said she was "disturbed" by these comments and felt Simons was making them to try to provoke a reaction from her.
In January of this year, the documents allege that Simons told a legislative intern that he'd like to put his hands in her hair. Rep. Brandy Pyle, a Casselton Republican, called the remarks "a bit shocking" in an email to Legislative Council documenting the incident.
A separate memo documents the intern involved in this incident alleging that Simons had also made a comment about old pictures of Pyle in which she had bangs and, according to him, "looked like a schoolgirl."
The intern claims Simons told Pyle that she wouldn't want more hair because she'd "look Chinese or Indian."
I provided Simons a copy of the documents and asked him to comment. He dismissed them as "allegations" coming from "liberals" in Legislative Council.
"John Bjornson obviously has something against me and that’s something we’re going to have to deal with," Simons said, referring to the director of Legislative Council.
"We’re going to have to clean house like South Dakota did," Simons said, when I asked him what it would mean to "deal with" Legislative Council.
Addressing his comments about wanting to run his hands through an intern's hair, he characterized the conversation as being about hair in general. Simons works as a barber, and said he was just passing on some advice. "I told them if I had pink hair and tight jeans this probably wouldn’t be an issue," he said, claiming the intern said they were "fine."
Appeals about Simons' behavior to legislative leadership, including former House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, who is no longer in the Legislature, current Majority Leader Pollert, and Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser, R-Minot, are recorded throughout the documents, though little seems to have come of the incidents.
"Clearly there is a major reluctance to file a formal complaint because they believe there is a lack of support from legislators for staff regardless of the knowledge that certain legislators are habitual offenders of decency," Bjornson writes in one memo from the file.
In response to one incident, the documents allege that Louser asked if the female staffer had done anything to invite Simons' advances and behavior.
"I have told Luke his behavior is inappropriate. As far as Legislative Council staff, they could have filed a complaint," Pollert told me when asked him about the documents.
"I've asked them if they have any problems. If they feel I haven't done anything they should be coming forward and file a complaint. Nobody has asked to do a formal complaint," he continued.
"I had a discussion with Brandy," Pollert said, referring to the incident with Rep. Pyle. "I asked her how far to go or if Luke should do an apology. I was not there, but he did go up and have a discussion with Brandy. I haven't had a further response from that."
Pollert wasn't willing to discuss what, if any, further actions would be taken with regard to Simons, saying he hadn't seen all of the reports from Legislative Council yet.
The documents indicate that Simons has been told not to seek out female members of Legislative Council to work with, but some of the female staffers have indicated that they'd work with Simons if necessary.
Simons' conflicts with others, who are mostly female, doesn't stop with his legislative colleagues or legislative staff. At least one member of the news media reports an uncomfortable interaction with the Dickinson Republican as well.
Molly Martinez, a former news anchor for KFYR television, an NBC affiliate based in Bismarck, said Simons once belittled her and a female coworker at a Republican convention in Grand Forks.
"During the 2018 Republican convention, the other main female anchor and I were up there and we had two male photographers who were much younger and lower down the ranks. We were out to dinner and Luke Simons sees us and comes up and shakes the hands of the men at the table," Martinez told me.
She said Simons, after introducing himself to the men, pointed at the two women and asked, "are these your secretaries?"
"This man knew exactly who we were. We worked with him before. He knows us. He came over to insult us," Martinez told me. "I’ve experienced sexism in this line of work, but never so brazen and in your face."
Martinez said they "immediately said something about it because we were both appalled and in disbelief that he would say that to us." According to Martinez, later that evening Simons came back to them and tried to "assuage the situation" but they "completely ignored him" and reported the incident to their supervisors at KFYR.
Simons said he remembers the incident differently. "I recognized the two men, I didn’t recognize the ladies. I thought they were dating. I was joking I guess. They got mad and I apologized to the two reporters. I had no clue what they were mad about," he said.
Marcie Bollinger, the other anchor who was covering the convention with Martinez, didn't immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com
Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.