MINOT, N.D. — Even as supporters rally around embattled lawmaker Luke Simons, minimizing or dismissing accusations of harassing and inappropriate conduct, at least some of which he's admitted to, one of his Republican colleagues is adding to the pile of evidence against him.
Rep. Emily O'Brien was first elected to the North Dakota House of Representatives during the 2016 cycle.
In 2017 she began her first legislative session and tells me that even as she was learning the ropes of her chamber, she suffered a campaign of harassment from Simons, a Dickinson Republican who is also an outspoken member of the Bastiat Caucus.
Simons was also first elected in 2016.
O'Brien spoke to me as Simons faces a growing number of accusations of harassment and inappropriate behavior, including a profane verbal altercation with two female lawmakers in the capitol cafeteria this week, and a series of incidents involving women documented by the legislature's staff going back years.
She said Simons sat behind her during the session and would make remarks to her almost daily.
"Every couple of days he'd walk by and give me the up-down," she told me, saying Simons would make a show of looking her up and down.
It was his habit to comment on the outfits she was wearing.
According to O'Brien, Simons also had thoughts on her personal life.
"He would say that I must be a 'good secretary for your boss,'" O'Brien told me. "He would say 'you're lucky your boss lets you come out here to work.'"
"He would ask how things are going at home," she continued, saying Simons would ask her who was doing the dishes and the laundry since those things were her responsibility.
O'Brien responded to the more recent scandal surrounding Simons with a post to her Facebook page today:
Simons did not immediately respond to an inquiry about O'Brien's comments. In previous social media postings, Simons has suggested that the accusations against him are motivated by a political plot against what he describes as his conservative politics.
O'Brien says she reported the incidents to legislative leadership — former lawmaker Al Carlson, a Republican from Fargo, was the House Majority Leader at the time — and was told the matter would be taken care of, but she was never aware of Simons facing any consequences.
In the absence of official action, O'Brien resorted to pretending to be on the phone when Simons would walk by to avoid her.
She also said she has a particular dress she stopped wearing to the Legislature because of the attention it drew from Simons.
Ultimately, O'Brien said some of her fellow lawmakers urged her to move her seat across the chamber to be away from Simons. She told me the excuse she used for this change was to be closer to the bathrooms.
O'Brien says she wishes she had spoken up sooner about what happened. "It shouldn't be 'it is what it is.'" she said.
On Friday, current House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R-Carrington), along with Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser (R-Minot) called on Simons to resign, noting that if he refused the House of Representatives would explore other options to address the situation.
Simons hasn't responded to that call, as I write this. In my conversations with lawmakers, many say they're ready to vote to expel Simons from the chamber.
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Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at email@example.com.