BISMARCK — North Dakota Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said Sen. Oley Larsen should issue a public apology and resign his position as interim president pro tempore after the Minot Republican called U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., a terrorist and posted a mislabeled photo of her on his Facebook page.
Republican Gov. Doug Burgum said Tuesday he supports Wardner's actions, according to spokesman Mike Nowatzki.
"Sen. Larsen's comments are not the position of the Senate Republican Caucus or the Senate as a whole," Wardner told Forum News Service on Tuesday, Oct. 22.
Wardner said Larsen should apologize for misrepresenting Omar in the photo that falsely portrayed her training at an Al Qaida camp, but he said the post wasn't racist as some Facebook commenters have suggested. Wardner said he has not yet spoken with Larsen.
"No, I don't think it's racist. It has to do with political philosophy," Wardner said. "(Larsen and Omar) are as far apart politically as you can be."
While Wardner called on the embattled senator to resign his leadership position, he said he wouldn't ask Larsen to give up his seat in the state's highest legislative body, saying Larsen would ultimately be responsible to the people who elected him.
The interim president pro tempore would preside over the Senate during a special session of the Legislature if the lieutenant governor is absent.
Wardner said the apology and resignation of the leadership position would be a step in the right direction, but he did not rule out further disciplinary action against Larsen. Wardner said the Senate could vote to completely expel Larsen, although he said situations just as bad or worse have not led to expulsion.
The photo in question
The photo posted by Larsen was taken by the Associated Press in 1978, four years before the first Somali-American elected to Congress was born. On social media, people pointed that fact out to the senator, many criticizing him.
Larsen responded to one person by writing, "I'm begging to let everyone know she is an elected terrorist."
Omar also took to social media early Monday night to respond to the post.
"This is pure propaganda designed to stir up hate and violence coming from a GOP state rep," she tweeted. "Facebook's unwillingness to crack down on hate speech and misinformation is not just threatening my life, but our democracy."
Larsen's Facebook post has since been removed, but not before attracting the attention of critics both nationally and locally.
But the second post, which was posted a few hours later, has not been taken down as of Tuesday morning. In it, Larsen wrote, "A vet over a terrorist hope people get off the couch and take time off work to go vote her out."
It is in reference to Chris Kelley, who is running as an Independent challenger to Omar next year.
"I think it's racist, I think it's offensive," said North Dakota Democratic Chairwoman Kylie Oversen, calling it a "pattern" with the senator, who earlier this year tried to get Bible classes in public schools.
A campaign ad from 2014 featured his challenger pointing out Larsen's stance on an anti-bullying bill in schools where he called kids "marshmallows."