BISMARCK, N.D. — Members of the North Dakota House were hearing testimony Thursday afternoon before deciding whether to expel a state lawmaker accused of sexually harassing women at the Capitol.
Republican Rep. Luke Simons, who has denied wrongdoing and refused to resign, could become the first lawmaker expelled since statehood. He was scheduled to speak at Thursday’s hearing.
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.’”
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, s 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 women’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.”
A vote was expected later Thursday.
James MacPherson, The Associated Press