Port: UND president urges 'swift action' from lawmakers in Luke Simons scandal
"It came to my attention Friday that a UND student serving as an intern in the North Dakota Legislature reported experiencing harassing behavior from a member of the House," Andrew Armacost wrote in the email sent this morning. "Those allegations, and others, have been aired in recent news media reports."
MINOT, N.D. — Rep. Luke Simons, a member of the controversial Bastiat Caucus from Dickinson, faces many accusations of harassment from women who work in and around the Legislature.
These accusations stretch back years, but one of the most recent examples involves a legislative intern.
Earlier this year Rep. Brandy Pyle of Casselton, one of two Republican lawmakers to accuse Simons of harassment, documented the incident in an email sent to Legislative Council . She also discussed the matter with me during a recent episode of my podcast. Simons allegedly told the intern he'd like to run his hands through her hair. The intern also reported comments Simons made about Pyle, including that older photos of her made her look like "a schoolgirl" and that longer hair made her look "Indian" or "Chinese."
According to a campus email sent by University of North Dakota President Andrew Aramcost, that intern is a University of North Dakota student.
"It came to my attention Friday that a UND student serving as an intern in the North Dakota Legislature reported experiencing harassing behavior from a member of the House," Armacost wrote in the email sent this morning. "Those allegations, and others, have been aired in recent news media reports."
Armacost said that the student in question has been contacted by the university and offered support services. He also indicates that he's been in touch with legislative leadership and has urged them to take swift action.
"As UND’s president, I take seriously our responsibility to ensure our students, faculty, and staff are safe, and their learning environments and workplaces are free from discrimination and harassment," he wrote. "I have written to Rep. Chet Pollert, majority leader of the House of Representatives, and the other senior legislative leaders. In my letter, I expressed support for their condemnation of inappropriate behavior and for their commitment to swift action, if these allegations are substantiated. I encourage the leadership of the House — and all members of the legislature — to make certain that interns, staff members, and legislators are always treated with respect and dignity."
Simons has denied many of the accusations against him, though he has admitted to others. When I questioned him last week about this incident with the intern, he said he was simply offering advice about hair care in the context of his day job as a barber. "I told them if I had pink hair and tight jeans this probably wouldn’t be an issue," he said .
The Legislature has reconvened today, March 3, after a mid-session break for the Senate and House to crossover the bills each passed. The question of how to handle the scandal around Simons is expected to be taken up by lawmakers later today.
I'm told that one possible solution is for Simons to be barred from the state Capitol until the accusations against him can be investigated . Under that scenario, Simons would attend to his legislative duties remotely.
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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 .