Oregon House Expels Lawmaker for Aiding State Capitol Breach
On Thursday, the Oregon House swiftly approved a resolution immediately expelling Rep. Mike Nearman (R-Dallas) from the legislature for aiding an unruly and violent group of protestors who entered the building during a one-day special session on December 21, 2020. Upon initial entry, the group fought with law enforcement to gain access further into the building, resulting in several officer injuries and the destruction of property. Nearman faces criminal charges of first-degree official misconduct and second-degree criminal trespass for his involvement in the breach of the Capitol during the special session. For many lawmakers, Democrats and Republicans alike, the incident was a chilling moment in Oregon political history, with some describing protestors threatening violence against them and their families.
Weeks after the incident, Oregon Public Broadcasting reported on video surveillance revealing the former representative exiting through a door that protestors used to enter the building. Then, last Friday, a new video surfaced showing Nearman and a group of conservative activists planning the incident days before the special session. The plan, which he described as “Operation Hall Pass,” entailed the protestors sending a text message to a number he provided saying they were outside. The number was his personal cell phone number.
Although the politics of the incident were mounting throughout the session with Democrats spending much of the last five months calling for Nearman’s resignation, the latest video seemed to fundamentally shift the focus to expulsion. On Monday, House Speaker Tina Kotek introduced House Resolution 3, the legislative vehicle for the expulsion, and announced the formation of a special bipartisan committee to consider its passage. Nearman’s colleagues in the House Republican Caucus, who had previously urged for the completion of the legal investigation before drawing any conclusions, publicly called on the former representative to resign in a letter signed by the entire caucus on Monday. The letter signaled that his expulsion was a forgone conclusion unless he removed himself from the legislature. In a blog post by Rep. Bill Post (R-Keizer), a friend of the former representative, he wrote that Nearman lied to the caucus about planning the incident. From his perspective, at least, Nearman lying about further evidence betrayed the trust of his caucus colleagues and was the final straw that ultimately cost him their support.
On Thursday, the Special Committee convened for a short hearing and work session on the resolution, outlining the evidence indicating the responsibility for the incident squarely fell on Nearman for planning and executing his plan. Members from both parties commented on the lapses of judgment that resulted in that day’s events and unanimously approved the resolution. Only a few hours later, the entire chamber reconvened on the floor in an evening session to hold their final vote, marking the first time in state political history that either chamber removed a sitting legislator from office. In the end, Nearman was the only dissenting vote on his expulsion. As a result, the residents of House District 23, a large district spanning the mostly rural communities of four counties, are currently without a state representative in the final weeks of the legislative session. In the coming weeks, the Republican Party precinct committee persons from those counties will recommend the names of three to five individuals for county commissioners to appoint to the vacated seat.
While the proceedings to expel the former representative from the legislature were the featured story of the week, the legislature has no time to spare to complete its work for the session. Today, the Ways & Means Committee spent four hours discussing and voting on agency budgets to start clearing the calendar for a growing list of policy appropriations and final budget measures, which will consume much of next week. Additionally, the Senate tax-writing committee unveiled a major proposal seeking to limit Oregon’s reduced tax rates for partnerships, s-corporations, and sole proprietors, which may come to a head next week as the committee decides whether to advance it. The legislature must adjourn before 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, June 27, and, although adjournment is within sight, there is still much to accomplish before it is over.