BISMARCK — A North Dakota legislator said he used a "poor choice of words" Tuesday, Jan. 2, after calling a fellow Twitter user a "libtard" Friday morning.
It wasn't the first time Minot Republican Rep. Roscoe Streyle used the insult, and a Concordia College student has since launched an online petition calling for his removal from office. That petition, which is outside the formal recall process enshrined in the state Constitution, had more than 200 signatures by 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
"It's very offensive to people with disabilities," Linden Stave said. "It just reflects really poorly."
Streyle, who has since deleted the tweet telling someone else to “go pound sand libtard,” used the insult and its plural more than 30 times since the beginning of September, including one that tagged Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, according to a search of his tweets. But he disputed Stave's assertion that it's formed by combining the words "liberal" and "retard."
"If you look up the word of 'tard' ... in the dictionary, it's someone who is stupid but in an annoying way. It's not retarded," Streyle said. "I admit when I'm wrong and this time I was totally wrong."
A search of Merriam-Webster and Oxford online dictionaries did not yield results for "tard." The Oxford online dictionary said “libtard” is a “blend of liberal and retard.”
Streyle's "libtard" tweet was a response to another Twitter user, whom Stave doesn't know, who disputed Streyle's declaration that "North Dakota loves" President Donald Trump.
The tweet was consistent with Streyle's behavior on the social media site, where he has used "moron" to describe a North Dakota attorney fighting the state's voter ID law, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, among others. He called Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren "Pocahontas," a jab favored by Trump.
Streyle's Twitter account is now private.
Angered by "attacks" on House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, Streyle called Democrat Merrill Piepkorn a "light weight do nothing" senator on Facebook late last month.
Asked whether it was appropriate for a state legislator to lob such insults on social media, Streyle said "Trump does it, he's the president of the United States," before laughing and adding that "no it's not."
"Sometimes in the heat of the moment you say things you then regret," he said. "I'm not a state representative first, I'm a human being first."
Streyle was first elected to the House in 2010 and is a member of that chamber's budget-writing committee.
Carlson said legislative leadership encourages members to stay professional on social media. He said voters would ultimately decide if Streyle's behavior is acceptable.
"We keep reminding the members of the caucus that you're supposed to disagree on policy, not on personality," Carlson said. "Obviously we can't control everybody's agenda and personal comments, but we would hope that they are always on the polite side."
Streyle said he had no plans to step down and referred to the petition website, Change.org, as a "liberal group."
Stave, who just turned 18 and hasn't voted yet, said he leans liberal but said Streyle's social media use wasn't a partisan issue. He said the petition was meant in part to draw attention to the legislator.
"If a third-grader said, 'go pound sand libtard,' they would be in a lot of trouble," Stave said. "If a state representative acts like a child, they shouldn't be in power."