The chamber voted 69-25 to boot Simons, meeting the two-thirds majority needed. Rep. Emily O’Brien, Simons’s Republican colleague who moved desks after what she described as a pattern of “disturbing” harassment, urged the chamber to listen to the women who spoke out.
“Women should not have to endure such behavior, period, but especially when working for the people of North Dakota,” she said on the floor.
Simons, who argued that the vote failed to give him due process, said he would consider challenging his expulsion to the state’s Supreme Court.
“Well that’s it, no hearing, no trial and no evidence,” Simons posted on Facebook. “Just based off of accusations that were made, I was expelled from the house and now I’m out of the legislature.”
The historic vote marked the end of a contentious battle over Simons behavior, which was detailed in a report released last week by the legislature’s nonpartisan research agency after Simons used profanity to berate a pair of Democrats in the House cafeteria.
O’Brien last weekend also publicly described her own allegations of harassment against Simons. Whenever he walked nearby, she said she pretended to talk on the phone to avoid him. That didn’t stop him from repeatedly making inappropriate comments about her clothes and personal life, she said.
Reporting his unprofessional behavior to the House leadership didn’t help either, she said, nor did ceasing to wear a dress that frequently drew his attention. Finally, O’Brien, who was pregnant, had to ask for a new seat as far away as possible from Simons, she said in a statement.
“My colleagues helped me relocate to a desk further away from him under the pretense that my pregnancy required closer proximity to a restroom rather than addressing his harassing behavior,” O’Brien said on Thursday. “Mine is just one of many instances that were handled by avoiding the real issue.”
The report documents the accounts of numerous staff members and interns who similarly reported Simons for what one staffer described as “really creepy” behavior, including allegedly giving a colleague an unsolicited shoulder massage during a hearing and recounting a “long story about shopping for thongs.”
Simons was defiant last week, saying that he planned to sue over the “unfounded” claims and comparing himself to Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, who faced allegations of sexual assault in his confirmation hearings. Simons declined to comment on the allegations to The Washington Post, deferring questions to his attorney.
“The truth will all come out,” Simons told The Post on Sunday. “I can’t wait for the truth to come out.”
Simons, 43, who represents Dickinson, his hometown, first won office in 2016. The barber, rancher and father of five is also a member of the Bastiat Caucus, a state group of Trump-aligned legislators.
O’Brien said Simons began harassing her soon after her election to the state House in 2016, the Grand Forks Herald reported.
“Every couple of days he’d walk by and give me the up-down,” O’Brien said, referencing the way Simons looked at her.
Other days, O’Brien said Simons would ask her about her personal life, questioning who was home doing the dishes and laundry when she was at work. “He would say that I must be a ‘good secretary for your boss,’ ” she told the Herald. “He would say ‘you’re lucky your boss lets you come out here to work.’ ”
She eventually reported the behavior to the legislative leadership, but she said no one ever informed her of any actions taken against Simons.
Lawyers for the legislative leaders, meanwhile, began compiling their own report on his behavior. Legislative Council Director John Bjornson told the Associated Press last week that he decided to release the documents after Simons used profanity in a tirade aimed at two Democratic lawmakers in the Capitol’s cafeteria who had asked him to wear a mask. Simons has since publicly apologized for that incident.
In the report released Thursday, one woman reported that the first time Simons visited her office during the 2017 legislative session, he “leaned over [the] desk and made a remark about her eyelashes being very beautiful sort of like his wife’s.”
A staff member in 2018 said they would no longer continue working with Simons after feeling “extremely uncomfortable” when the lawmaker arrived at their office to discuss a legal matter.
“What does immune from liability mean, like if you were in a car accident and I came upon the scene and you were lying on the side of the road,” Simons allegedly said. “If I took your shirt off to administer aid to a wound, I wouldn’t be guilty of sexual harassment.”
The staffer replied, “That is an inappropriate example.”
To what Simons allegedly said, “Oh ya, I took it too far.”
By 2019, according to the report, Simons was only allowed to speak with male administrative staff, unless female staff members consented to speak with him.
Earlier this year, a staffer reported Simons for allegedly telling an intern, “I would like to put my hands in your hair.” Another intern this year said Simons allegedly told her that he “had seen a photo of her when she had bangs, and she looked like a schoolgirl.”
The report prompted several lawmakers, including Republicans, to call for Simons to step down. In a joint statement released Friday, House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R), Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser (R) and House Caucus Chair Rep. Glenn Bosch (R) urged Simons “to resign from his seat.”
“Should he refuse, the legislature will weigh all the information and options, including expulsion,” Pollert said. “We want to make clear that this behavior will not be accepted at the Legislature.”
But Simons refused to leave the House, instead threatening in live-streamed news conference with the Dickinson Press to file a defamation lawsuits over the “unfounded” allegations.
“I know exactly how Judge Kavanaugh feels now,” Simons said. “[They] have come against my character, and these allegations are simply not true.” He added he has more than two years of recordings of past conversations that disprove the accusations.
On Thursday, the House moved to expel him. The two-hour debate largely centered on procedure, the Tribune reported, with Simons’s defenders arguing that he wasn’t getting a fair trial.
“If we don’t follow our own rules, then we are adding misconduct on top of misconduct,” said Rep. Terry Jones (R), the Tribune reported.
After the vote, his attorney, Lynn Boughey, echoed those arguments and said Simons wasn’t given a fair chance to defend himself.
“Yes, the accuser must be heard, but justice also must be done,” Boughey said in a statement to The Post. “What happened yesterday was a denial of all the basic due process rights we hold dear. It was nothing more than a political assassination based not on the truth but pure innuendo and mischaracterizations of what really happened.”
But Pollert argued that Simons behavior was so egregious that he couldn’t be allowed to stay in the House.
“This is about a pattern of inappropriate behavior and about someone who was given multiple chances to avoid being in this situation,” he said.