Buried in the multiple accusations of indecency from Dickinson Rep. Luke Simons to the female staff at the North Dakota Capitol was another revelation that must be addressed. No formal complaint has been filed because staff didn’t feel Republican legislative leadership was taking the situation seriously. There needs to be a change to prevent anything similar from happening.
Following the file full of complaints becoming public, Simons took to his phone and recorded a rambling denial of the multiple allegations from multiple women. He tried to paint himself as the victim of some elaborate three-year-long plot by “liberal democrats” to take him down for being “effective.” His claims are as believable as Rep. Jim Kasper saying his Facebook was hacked multiple times by someone to post multiple racist memes on his page over the last three years.
First, one of the allegations from staff was corroborated by Republican Rep. Brandy Pyle. Not exactly a “liberal democrat.” Second, can anyone point to what Simons has accomplished in the Legislature for him to claim he is being targeted for being effective? Lastly, until February 25th few people in the general public likely knew who Simons was. Why would they? Well, they do now because of the multiple claims of harassment and his unwelcome behavior. Yet, his colleagues and his leadership knew him and of the behavior. That cannot be ignored.
Buried in the 14-page complaint against Simons, were details and a timeline that also needs our attention. Legislative staff who felt harassed have yet to file a formal complaint against Simons. The documents claim that is because the staff didn’t believe they had the support of other legislators. That claim was reported in February of 2021. Two years before that revelation, in March of 2019, those same records claim Assistant House Majority Leader Scott Louser from Minot questioned whether the victim did anything to give Simons the impression she would welcome his “advances.” No wonder the staff didn’t feel like other legislators were taking this harassment seriously.
If these claims are accurate, the Majority Leader Chet Pollert and his Assistant Scott Louser have known about Simons’s inappropriate conduct the entire time. Whatever recourse they’ve attempted to make for a safe and comfortable work environment for their staff hasn’t worked. Sadly, it seems as though there were attempts to excuse the behavior from the second in power of the House, Scott Louser.
Because of the Republican leadership’s failure, no formal complaint has been filed. That is a shame. Isn’t this why voters created the Ethics Commission? Where have they been in this whole process? For answers, we may need to look at these same lawmakers.
Over the last week, the North Dakota House rejected the funding for the Ethics Commission. Scott Louser and Luke Simons were two of the lawmakers who voted against funding the Commission. The House had to walk back that attempt to stymie the funding because when voters put the Commission into the Constitution, they also mandated it is funded.
The Commission will be funded, but will they be allowed to independently investigate claims like the multiple accusations filed against Simons? Not likely with the current limitations placed on by these same lawmakers. Ever since voters created the Commission, the Legislature has been out to tie its hands. The bumbling of this Simons situation is the latest example North Dakota needs a robust independent body to ensure public officials are acting ethically.
Staff deserve a safe work environment and to have their concerns taken seriously. In their own claims, that hasn’t been the case in Bismarck over the last three years. Things need to change.