GRAND FORKS — Luke Simons has been expelled from the North Dakota Legislature, the result of a historic vote that captured the state’s attention and put a focus on harassment and inappropriate behavior.
Simons staunchly denies he has done anything wrong, but testimony suggests otherwise. Rep. Emily O’Brien, of Grand Forks, said she was targeted by Simons, who she claims inappropriately discussed her appearance and personal life. In a 14-page legislative report, other instances came to light. Simons allegedly leaned over a desk and told a woman her eyelashes are beautiful; he gave a woman a shoulder massage; he discussed with a woman going shopping for intimate clothing.
And last month, he had an alarming exchange with fellow lawmaker Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, when she asked him to put on a face mask, since masks are mandated in that particular location.
Simons allegedly answered with “(expletive) off. You’re not my (expletive) mother.”
The 69-25 House vote Thursday, March 4, was the right move, and lawmakers should be commended for their bold action.
Simons, according to reporting by Forum News Service, has said his accusers were politically against him because of his conservative views. Yet O’Brien herself is a Republican, and 51 Republicans voted to expel Simons, including one from his own hometown.
This is a landmark moment in North Dakota history, and sets an example for future lawmakers everywhere, since boorish, harassing and inappropriate behavior in legislatures has been common over the years.
In 2018, a survey in Minnesota noted that one in five members of the state Legislature and its staff had experienced some sort of sexually harassing behavior in the Statehouse.
Also in 2018, South Dakota lawmakers and staff had sexual harassment training after women came forward with ugly stories. In 2017, a state senator accused the House majority leader of making comments about her anatomy and asking for a hug. Another woman, a lobbyist, said she was raped by a man who works at the South Dakota Capitol.
And in North Dakota, Sen. Kathy Hogan in 2018 told Forum News Service that as many as half of the women who work at the Legislature had experienced some sort of harassment. At the time, she said it’s so common that many women have simply gotten used to it.
One more time, for emphasis: It’s so common that many women have simply gotten used to it.
What the heck is going on?
North Dakota’s Legislature must not be a place that harbors or allows this kind of conduct. Thankfully, lawmakers spoke loudly about the future of the work environment in the North Dakota Capitol.
This was not a political witch hunt about views or beliefs, nor was it some partisan effort. It was a statement, one that declares forever that abusive behavior will not be allowed in our Legislature.
Those who spoke out against it, whether it was victims or even those who aren’t at the Capitol — such as University of North Dakota President Andrew Armacost — must be commended for taking a stand that will bring real and necessary change to the Legislature, to the state and hopefully beyond.
This other view is the opinion of the editorial board of our sister publication, the Grand Forks Herald.