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Port: There's a good answer for why it took so long for Luke Simons' harassment to be outed

Why wasn't more done sooner? It's actually an easy question to answer. The answer completely undermines complaints from Simons and his ardent supporters.

PHOTO: Rep. Luke Simons
North Dakota Rep. Luke Simons, R-Dickinson, speaks at a hearing on his possible expulsion over sexual harassment accusations on Thursday, March 4. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service
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MINOT, N.D. — "The North Dakota House expelled a member for the first time in its history for a years-long pattern of abusive comments toward women," The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead wrote Thursday in an editorial . "Luke Simons' expulsion was amply warranted, but decisive action should have been taken sooner."

We know that now-former Rep. Simons engaged in a years-long campaign of harassment against multiple women. It has been documented going back as far as his first legislative session back in 2017. We also know that legislative leadership was contacted about Simons' behavior, and he was counseled by the same, multiple times, to shape up and apologize.

Even if some of those asking are motivated by partisan political considerations — the strident mediocrities in charge of the Democratic-NPL are doing their best to turn the Simons situation into a dunk on the NDGOP — it's a fair question to ask.

Why wasn't more done sooner?

It's actually an easy question to answer.

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The answer completely undermines complaints from Simons and his ardent supporters.

They'd have us believe his expulsion was motivated by "cancel culture" or "gotcha politics" or some conspiracy to remove an effective (try not to laugh) and deeply conservative (I said don't laugh) politician from a position of power.

The women Simons harassed weren't out to get him.

They didn't want to ruin his political career. They didn't want their issues with him to garner local and even national media attention.

They just wanted him to knock it off so they could all do their jobs.

If you listen to Simons' victims like Rep. Emily O'Brien, R-Grand Forks, and Rep. Brandy Pyle, R-Casselton , and if you read the documentation of his behavior from Legislative Council , it becomes clear that many of them were trying to help Simons even as they tried to protect themselves.

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Pyle, specifically, told me during a recent interview that she actually sat down with Simons two years ago to discuss his behavior during NDGOP caucus meetings, something she also described during the floor debate which led to Simons' expulsion yesterday.

Does that sound like someone on a witch hunt?

Even Rep. Karla Rose Hanson, D-Fargo, who was the target of Simons' profanity-laced tirade in the Capitol cafeteria late last month and is one of the most obnoxiously partisan politicians in North Dakota, didn't speak publicly about the issue.

When I attempted to contact her as I began investigating Simons' behavior, she didn't respond.

She could have. She could have spoken to some other member of the news media about the incident. She certainly had plenty of political incentive to do so.

Instead, she chose to address Simons' behavior through legislative leadership, including Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, and Majority Leader Chet Pollert, R-Carrington. Before I made the cafeteria incident public, Hanson and fellow lawmaker Rep. LaurieBeth Hager, D-Fargo, had agreed to accept another apology from Simons instead of demanding a more public action.

Pyle and O'Brien did the same.

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PHOTO: Rep. Emily O'Brien
North Dakota Rep. Emily O'Brien, R-Grand Forks, details the case for expelling Dickinson Republican Rep. Luke Simons, who she has accused of sexual harassment. Jeremy Turley / Forum News Service

They didn't contact me to tell their stories. I contacted them, and even then, they were reluctant to speak with me at all. The women who work for Legislative Council, too, tried over and over again to find ways to work with Simons even as his boorish and abusive behavior continued.

All of this undermines another talking point from Simons and his supporters, which is the idea that he wasn't afforded due process.

He was. In fact, this process stretches back years, all the way to 2017, when he first came to Bismarck to serve in the House of Representatives. His colleagues showed him a tremendous amount of patience.

Ultimately, enough was simply enough.

The Legislature needs to take a long and hard look at how it handles this sort of harassment. Some of Simons' victims have said they didn't bother to make more formal complaints about his behavior because they were afraid those complaints wouldn't be taken seriously. That's a problem in need of fixing. There needs to be a better process and some better attitudes about that process.

But for those saying Simons should have been expelled sooner, consider that the very people who took the brunt of his behavior were the ones trying to give him a chance to reform.

To comment on this article, visit www.sayanythingblog.com .

Rob Port, founder of SayAnythingBlog.com, is a Forum Communications commentator. Reach him on Twitter at @robport or via email at rport@forumcomm.com .

Related Topics: INFORUM BISMARCKGOVERNMENT AND POLITICSCHET POLLERT
Opinion by Rob Port
Rob Port is a news reporter, columnist, and podcast host for the Forum News Service. He has an extensive background in investigations and public records. He has covered political events in North Dakota and the upper Midwest for two decades. Reach him at rport@forumcomm.com. Click here to subscribe to his Plain Talk podcast.
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