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Forum Editorial: Expelling Luke Simons from the North Dakota House was justified. It took too long

The North Dakota House expelled a member for the first time in its history for a years-long pattern of abusive comments toward women. Luke Simons' expulsion was amply warranted, but decisive action should have been taken sooner.

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The North Dakota House of Representatives made history when it voted overwhelmingly to expel one of its members for a pattern of abusive comments directed at women and sexual harassment.

The expulsion of Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, by a vote of 69-25 on Thursday, March 4, by his colleagues, was amply justified — and long overdue.

The public only learned recently what members of the North Dakota House have known for several years: Simons has repeatedly made comments that are demeaning, suggestive, abusive or otherwise inappropriate toward women.

His string of inappropriate and misogynistic comments were so offensive and unending that Rep. Emily O’Brien, R-Grand Forks, moved her desk to the other side of the House chamber. His offensive comments were directed at other female fellow members as well, at female legislative staffers — even at a college student serving as a legislative intern.

He kept making his boorish and abusive comments despite repeated warnings by House GOP leaders, who first tried to counsel Simons, a barber and rancher, to get him to act appropriately. Those efforts failed miserably, as the public learned recently when Simons shouted a vulgar obscenity at Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, who asked him to wear a mask, as required by legislative rules, in the Capitol cafeteria.

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That outburst led Forum Communications columnist Rob Port to submit a public records request with the Legislative Council, yielding documents exhibiting a pattern of shameful conduct by Simons dating back to the 2017 session.

More incidents came to light after Simons’ conduct was reported, a drum beat that forced legislative leadership to take decisive action. It’s understandable that leaders’ response started with a warning, but their forbearance left Simons with the impression that he could act with impunity.

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He discussed shopping for thongs at Victoria’s Secret for his wife with a female legislative staff member.
He made a remark about a thoroughbred horse having a “hungry look in her eye like some women.”

He also told a female legislative intern that he’d like to run his hands through her hair, a remark that Rep. Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton, found “a bit shocking.”

Simons, who seems not to have let an opportunity to make a shockingly inappropriate comment pass by, compared Pyle, as shown in an old photograph in which she wore bangs, to a “schoolgirl.”

He told Pyle she wouldn’t want to wear her hair any longer or would “look Chinese or Indian.”

During the floor debate over his ouster, Simons remained unrepentant, denying any sexual harassment. He and his defenders argued that he be allowed due process and given a hearing similar to a trial. But Rep. Chet Pollert, R-Carrington, the House majority leader, was adamant that Simons was being punished for his official conduct, not accused of any crime.

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Simons’ behavior, Pollert said, wouldn’t be tolerated in any workplace. His conduct would get him fired.

That’s exactly what Simons’ colleagues did. They’d seen and heard enough. And in so doing, they demonstrated that the House would uphold its principles and demand that its members act with integrity and decorum.

The North Dakota Legislature has finally had its “me too” moment. Now that a member has been removed — the first expulsion in the assembly’s history — it will serve as an important lesson.

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