Far right tugs at North Dakota Republican Party

BISMARCK (AP) — An effort to recall a Republican legislator largely over his vote to expel a fellow GOP lawmaker accused of sexually harassing women at the state Capitol is being viewed as a litmus test for party loyalty, the state GOP ‘s new chairman said.

The move to recall Rep. Dwight Kiefert over his vote to oust former Rep. Luke Simons has fanned the flames of an intraparty fight that has a far-right faction seeking to control the party apparatus and replace Republicans they see as too moderate.

Perrie Schafer, who was elected chairman of the state GOP last month, has the task of repairing damage to the party’s image.

“I don’t like this infighting,” he said. “My goal is to get people rolling in the same direction.”

North Dakota Republicans wield supermajority control in the Legislature and hold every statewide office. The party, however, began splintering in the past decade with the emergence of the loosely organized Bastiat Caucus, fervent supporters of limited government and spending and privacy and gun rights.

Simons, who was expelled by the House in March, was one. The caucus has said 30 legislators paid dues in 2019, though the membership has not been publicly disclosed.

Mark Jendrysik, chairman of the University of North Dakota’s political science department, said “loyalty or purity tests” aren’t unusual in states where a party has a strong majority. He said the Kiefert recall appears to be such a test.

“If he is recalled, I really think it’s a warning to other representatives to pay attention to the more conservative” faction of the party, Jendrysik said.

Simons denied wrongdoing and complained that he wasn’t getting due process and was targeted for his political ideology.

Of 80 House Republicans, 55 voted to expel Simons. A few GOP lawmakers were formally condemned at the district level for backing the expulsion but Kiefert is the only one so far to face recall.

Kiefert said he voted to remove Simons because of his alleged inappropriate behavior toward women.

“How do you stand up for that?” said Kiefert, a farmer who represents a district in southeastern North Dakota.

The recall petition accuses Kiefert of “failing to meet the standards of a Republican” representing the district.

“I can’t imagine people wanting to recall me because I’m not a Republican,” he said.

Kiefert hardly qualifies as a moderate.