BISMARCK — A group of Valley City conservatives wants to recall North Dakota Rep. Dwight Kiefert after the Republican voted to expel a colleague accused of sexual harassment earlier this year.
Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved on Monday, July 19, the format of a petition to recall Kiefert. If the lawmaker's critics can gather 1,764 signatures from eligible District 24 voters over the next year, Kiefert would face a recall election.
The recall effort, led by District 24 GOP Treasurer Shane Anderson, comes several months after the local party censured Kiefert over his vote to remove former Dickinson Republican Rep. Luke Simons from the House. Anderson could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
Simons' defenders say he was owed due process, but more than two-thirds of his colleagues, most of them Republican, voted to boot the ultra-conservative lawmaker over his alleged inappropriate behavior, which included "creepy" comments to female legislators and staffers.
Kiefert said the recall campaign against him is "a joke," adding that "moral people would never stand for what they’re doing." The farmer and contractor said he doesn't regret his vote to expel Simons, who he called "a perpetrator," noting that he couldn't vote against the victims who came forward.
Though Kiefert considers himself a staunch conservative, he said the local controversy stemming from his vote to oust Simons has brought some Democrats to his defense. Kiefert, who has been in the House since 2013 and was reelected last year, said the recall effort will backfire as voters reject the fringe of the party that supports Simons.
"These guys have guaranteed my next election," Kiefert said.
North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Perry Schafer slammed the recall effort, calling it "frivolous and unserious." Schafer added that the party stands behind Kiefert.
Local party chairman Dan Johnston, a former state representative and candidate for state treasurer, did not respond to a request for comment. During his time in the Legislature, Johnston sided with Simons and the ultra-conservative Bastiat Caucus, an unofficial collection of lawmakers that does not disclose its membership.
Kiefert said he expects similar ideologues in other parts of the state to initiate recall campaigns against other Republican members of the House who voted to expel Simons.
"This is a movement," Kiefert said. "They're trying to take over the Legislature one district at a time."