Its been four days since the North Dakota House expelled Rep. Luke Simons (R – District 36). It was a national embarrassment, in which they ignored their own rules and refused calls for an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment. Because of their failure to provide Due Process, serious questions remain.
The actions of Simons’ colleagues should lead every North Dakotan to question why they were in such a hurry to expel him without so much as an investigation. After all, if facts were so overwhelmingly on their side, wouldn’t an investigation have proven their case and put to rest the calls for Due Process?
Amidst the questions surrounding the Luke Simons’ situation are serious issues of credibility in relation to Representatives Emily O’Brien (R – District 42) and Brandy Pyle (R – District 22). Both of whom made damning claims towards Simons on the House floor.
Rep. Emily O’Brien
As you can see in this Grand Forks Herald article, O’Brien is no stranger to making complaints about her work environment and trying to put people out of a job:
“State Rep. Emily O’Brien of Grand Forks claimed in June  in a letter to the State Board of Higher Education that UND leadership, specifically Provost Thomas DiLorenzo and President Mark Kennedy, had displayed ‘unprofessional leadership’ and had created a ‘hostile’ work environment. O’Brien asked the board not to renew Kennedy’s contract.” (Emphasis Added)
What ensued was an independent investigation. The result:
“The investigation did not find support for Ms. O’Brien’s allegations of harassment or a hostile work environment,” the report stated. “In sum, the investigation did not discover any harassment of Ms. O’Brien based on her political affiliation and, further, it did not reveal any evidence of a hostile work environment as alleged by Ms. O’Brien.” (Emphasis Added)
As a side note, I find it fascinating that O’Brien at least got the very thing that Rep. Simons asked for and was denied— an investigation. And that wasn’t the only time. She got Due Process the year before when she was arrested for a DUI. At one point, she even requested a jury trial. But I digress.
Now, to be fair, does this mean that Rep. O’Brien’s claims about Luke Simons are false? No, it doesn’t. Not anymore than her portrayal of what he said makes her allegations a reality. Nevertheless, considering the circumstances, I think it’s completely fair to call into question her credibility.
It doesn’t end with the UND situation though. In her allegations against Simons, O’Brien claims that she “endured harassment” to the point that she had to move seats on the House floor in order to “avoid continued proximity to him”. Yet, evidence raises serious questions as to how credible that claim is.
The first legislative session for both Emily O’Brien and Luke Simons was 2017. If you view the House member video for the both of them that session, you can clearly see that O’Brien isn’t even close to Simons. In fact, she’s a full four rows below him. You can see proof of this here. (Note: Rep. O’Brien is in the lower right corner of the video.)
Are we to believe that Simons harassed O’Brien from four rows away? Doubtful. Besides, if he had, what would it say about all those who sat in-between and did nothing about it?
The only other logical conclusions we can draw, with the 2017 seating arrangement, is that Simons either engaged in harassment as O’Brien was going to and from her seat or he walked down and badgered her there. But again, look at the video. There’s 23 other lawmakers in that area of the House floor. Could he do such a thing and not have others witness it? And how can we know for sure without an investigation? (Note: One lawmaker in front of Rep. Simons was Rep. Pat Heinert, who was Burleigh County Sheriff at the time.)
Fast forward to the 2019 legislative session and we find that O’Brien has indeed moved seats. But, in and of itself, that’s not an uncommon occurrence for legislators. Furthermore, at the time, she said it was to be closer to a restroom during her pregnancy. Only now does she claim it was because of Simons.
Rep. Brandy Pyle
Pyle’s claims against Rep. Simons are also problematic. The first documentation we have of them are dated January 30, 2021— three days after the alleged incident she’s reporting. The fact Rep. Pyle would wait until a Saturday, to report something that happened on a Wednesday, is itself odd. Especially if she felt it was that pressing of an issue.
By her own admission, Pyle’s own “recollection of what occurred” after committee work isn’t perfect. According to her email, those present with her were an “intern, Rep. Luke Simons, and I believe 2-3 other clerks”. Referring to the clerks, she adds, “I am not sure which ones were still in there”.
If she can’t even recall who was in the room, can we trust her account of what was said?
In this same document, Rep. Pyle makes the claim Simons told the intern that, “I would like to put my hands in your hair”. It’s important to remember the context of the conversation. By her own account, Pyle not only acknowledges that Simons (a barber by profession) was discussing “moisturizing conditioner, dry ends, dying hair and what type of shampoo to use when one dyes hair”, but she admits, “I am unaware of his intentions with his statement”.
It’s also worth noting that it’s not the intern that seems to have any concern about Rep. Simons’ comments. In fact, it’s Rep. Pyle that makes a comment about it to the intern and attributes “uncomfortable” interactions to his not being “self-aware of his words” and “spending too much time with cows than people.”
Further evidence that the intern wasn’t bothered by the conversation is found in a February 1st email from Legislative Council Director John Bjornson. When confronting her about the incident, Bjornson says that the intern responds it was “weird” but then says she “agrees with everyone else that he is just a ‘Christian’ guy who doesn’t know better.”
That doesn’t exactly sound like the monster Rep. Simons was portrayed to be in the March 4th “Committee of the Whole”, does it?
On February 2nd, Bjornson documents that he met with House Majority Leader Chet Pollert (R – District 29), Assistant Majority Leader Scott Louser (R – District 5), and Rep. Pyle “regarding Rep. Simons”. It is there that Bjornson records that Pyle “again started it is her impression he is weird and does not know how to act around people.”
But that’s not all. If you’ve seen the redacted report from Bjornson, you’ll notice that something is blacked out shortly after Pyle’s comment. What is it? Because of an unredacted version being sent to members of the House, prior to the sham “hearing” four days ago, we now know. It says this— “Rep. Pyle also made a statement about ‘wagging her finger’ at some of ‘those young guys last session having sex with interns’, which was met with a great deal of shock by Rep. Pollert.“
This is stunning for a variety of reasons. In fact, it leaves us with more questions than answers—
Why did Pyle not name the legislators sleeping their way through the ranks of the interns?
Why was there no formal complaint, rather than a “wagging” of the finger?
Has Legislative Council followed up and investigated these claims?
Is talking about dry hair more serious than legislators partying and having sex with interns?
Did Legislative Council notify UND President Andrew Armacost of this much more serious situation? After all, Bjornson reported concerns about Simons’ hair incident to him.
When was the first time Legislative Council was made aware of legislators having sex with interns?
What has Rep. Pollert done to investigate the sex with interns allegation of Rep. Pyle in the five weeks since Bjornson documented the claim?
The reality is that this once redacted sentence sheds a new light on the Simons’ situation.
Do you see anything wrong here? Not only is it seriously problematic that Rep. Luke Simons didn’t get the investigation and hearing that he asked for, but the claims of Representatives O’Brien and Pyle are plagued with credibility issues. Yet, Simons now finds himself on the outside looking in— with his name and reputation tarnished.
I return to the point I’ve made a number of times before— If facts are on the side of those so quick to expel, then why refuse to investigate and hold a hearing? What was there to be afraid of?
It’s one things to say there’s no double standard, arbitrary actions, or targeting of Luke Simons. It’s quite another to prove it.
- Rules for Thee, but Not for Me- House Expels Luke Simons – The Minuteman Blog
- Investigation finds Rep. Emily O’Brien’s UND claims unsubstantiated | Grand Forks Herald
- Grand Forks legislator’s DUI case steered back to municipal court | Grand Forks Herald
- Port: Grand Forks Republican says embattled lawmaker Luke Simons harassed her during first session | INFORUM
- Member Video Index
- North Dakota Legislative Branch Video (nd.gov)
- North Dakota Legislative Branch Video (nd.gov)
- UND President Urges ‘Swift Action’ From Lawmakers in Luke Simons Scandal – Say Anything (sayanythingblog.com)