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Republicans call on Oregon Rep. Mike Nearman to resign, as possible House expulsion looms

Surveillance video captured Dec. 21 at the Oregon State Capitol shows a crowd of protesters trying to fight their way past Oregon State Police troopers.
Surveillance video captured Dec. 21 at the Oregon State Capitol shows a crowd of protesters trying to fight their way past Oregon State Police troopers.

Oregon House Republicans broke their silence Monday on allegations against Rep. Mike Nearman, calling on the controversial lawmaker to resign days after new evidence that Nearman plotted with supporters before allowing an incursion of the state Capitol in December.

“Today we strongly recommend that you resign from the Oregon State House of Representatives, House District 23 position,” reads a letter signed by all 22 Republican House members besides Nearman. “Given the newest evidence that has come to light regarding the events of December 21, 2020, it is our belief as friends and colleagues that it is in the best interests of your caucus, your family, yourself, and the state of Oregon for you to step down from office.”

The letter comes the same day House Speaker Tina Kotek introduced a resolution to expel state Rep. Nearman -- and appears to eliminate any doubt that the resolution would pass if put before the full House.

“All House Republicans have called on Representative Nearman to resign,” House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, said in a statement. “We have to hold ourselves to a higher standard in elected life and his actions do not meet that standard.”

Nearman did not immediately answer an inquiry about whether he plans to resign. But on Monday, the lawmaker acknowledged to conservative radio host Lars Larson that he’d planned to allow people into the Capitol on Dec. 21, and said that he’d likely be expelled if it comes to a vote.

“On Friday morning, they’ll vote to expel me, and I believe they have the votes,” Nearman told Larson.

Nearman noted that no House member has been expelled in state history, and seemed to indicate he’d allow an expulsion vote to occur. “Someday you’re gonna be watching “Jeopardy” and somebody’s gonna say, ‘Who is Mike Nearman?’ And that’s gonna be the right answer,” Nearman said.

Kotek announced Monday that a resolution to expel Nearman will go through a “Special Committee on December 21, 2020,” that her office says will meet later this week.

“The severity of Representative Nearman’s actions and last week’s revelation that they were premeditated require a special committee to immediately consider expelling him from the House of Representatives,” Kotek, D-Portland, said in a statement. “He knowingly put the physical safety of everyone in the Capitol – lawmakers, staff and law enforcement – in jeopardy.

The special committee Kotek is forming will be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, meaning the two parties will need to find common ground for anything to pass. Democrats on the committee are Rep. Paul Holvey, who serves as House Speaker Pro Tem, House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, and Rep Andrea Salinas. Republican members are Drazan and Reps. Daniel Bonham and Duane Stark.

A vote to expel Nearman from the Legislature would ultimately require a minimum of 40 votes in the full House, a two-thirds supermajority that would require at least three Republican to vote in favor of expulsion.

Nearman’s case marks the second time this year the House has appeared ready to eject one of its own. Earlier this year, former state Rep. Diego Hernandez, D-Portland, resigned rather than waiting for an expulsion vote after findings showed he’d harassed several women.

Kotek and Smith Warner both tweeted Friday that Nearman should resign or be ejected from the House.

Until Monday, Republicans had been largely silent about the case against Nearman. Drazan had said in the past that Nearman should be “held responsible” if his actions were deemed criminal, but has not indicated whether she’d support expulsion. At least one Republican lawmaker, Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, suggested it was unclear whether Nearman intended to allow demonstrators into the Capitol on Dec. 21.

On that date, surveillance footage showed Nearman exiting the Capitol via a vestibule on the west side of the building, as right-wing demonstrators demanding entrance were gathered directly outside. Nearman did not break stride as he passed two men who held the door open behind him. The lawmaker immediately walked around the Capitol and re-entered from the other side.

Once inside the Capitol, demonstrators scuffled with police, with one man allegedly spraying bear mace at officers. Even after they were coaxed out of the building, some members in the crowd vandalized glass doors and assaulted journalists on the scene.

Nearman has not directly commented on his motives for leaving the building that morning, but footage that emerged last week suggests it was a premeditated act designed to allow people into the Capitol.

In a video that appears to have been shot on Dec. 16, five days before the breach, Nearman can be heard explaining to supporters an idea for “Operation Hall Pass.” In the video Nearman repeatedly tells an audience his phone number -- which he coyly suggests is not his number.

“And if you say, ‘I’m at the west entrance’ during the session and text that number there... somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there,” Nearman says in the video.

According to Nearman, the presentation took place at the Freedom Foundation, a conservative group that works against organized labor and for which Nearman served as a senior fellow. The group announced Monday that Nearman has resigned that position.

“The Freedom Foundation had no knowledge of Mr. Nearman’s involvement leading up to or on the Dec. 21 breach of the Oregon Capitol,” said Jason Dudash, the group’s Oregon director.

In his appearance on Larson’s radio show Monday, Nearman was up front about what the video depicted. “That video was me kinda setting up the 21st, I think,” he told Larson.

Nearman also suggested Kotek is “drunk with power,” and that Oregon State Police missed out on a chance to fully eject a handful of demonstrators from the Capitol before dozens more people flooded in, setting up a standoff.

“If they could have secured the building and they didn’t do it then, then I think you have to take another look at what my responsibility is for what happened after that,” Nearman said.

After a recitation of the facts, Kotek’s resolution concludes Nearman has “engaged in disorderly behavior,” the basis in the state Constitution for expelling a lawmaker.

The use of a special committee to handle the matter raises questions about a hearing of the House Conduct Committee scheduled for Wednesday evening. The committee takes up workplace complaints in the Legislature, and had been scheduled to consider Nearman’s case after an investigation determined the lawmaker likely broke personnel rules.

But while the Conduct Committee meeting is still scheduled, it’s not clear what will be at stake when the larger question of Nearman’s expulsion is being pursued by another committee.

Nearman has already faced some consequences for his actions. He has been charged with two misdemeanors stemming from the incident, and has been stripped of all of his legislative committee assignments. In addition, he has forfeited his badge granting Capitol access and must give 24 hours notice before coming to the building.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting