House speaker: Rep. Nearman should resign for Capitol breach
House Speaker Tina Kotek has turned up the pressure on Republican Rep. Mike Nearman to resign his seat after video surveillance showed him allowing anti-lockdown protesters to enter the closed Oregon Capitol during a Dec. 21 special session.
Kotek announced several actions against the Republican from Independence, who took the oath for a fourth term on opening day Monday, Jan. 11. She disclosed last week that Nearman was under criminal investigation by the Oregon State Police for his involvement.
Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, said in a statement:
"Rep. Nearman put every person in the Capitol in serious danger. As we tragically saw last week during the insurrection at the United States Capitol, the consequences could have been much worse had law enforcement not stepped in so quickly. His actions have created immense fear among legislators and Capitol staff. I believe he should resign immediately because he has already breached the public trust and endangered our ability to safely conduct the people's business."
The breach did not disrupt lawmakers from completing their business during the one-day session, including extension of a moratorium on residential evictions and coupling it with $200 million in landlord compensation and tenant assistance, and $600 million for coronavirus pandemic measures and Labor Day wildfire recovery.
There was no immediate response from Nearman or the House Republican office early Monday night.
Nearman, 64, is a software engineer who represents District 23, which covers parts of four Mid-Willamette Valley counties and is largely rural. Independence itself is in District 20. He ousted a Republican incumbent in the 2014 primary who had appeared with other Republicans in support of marriage rights for same-sex couples. A federal judge struck down Oregon's ban in 2014, a year ahead of the U.S. Supreme Court in a 2015 case.
The criminal investigation is separate from these actions, one of which Nearman has agreed to:
• He has been stripped of his committee assignments, effectively losing his ability to influence legislation other than his votes in the House chamber. Perhaps anticipating such action — although Kotek announced committee assignments on New Year's Eve — Nearman received just two assignments. They were to the budget subcommittee on general government — Nearman is not a member of the joint budget committee — and the Joint Committee on Information Management and Technology. He also has lost any legislative assignments to commissions.
• He was fined $2,000, the cost of damage to the vestibule the protesters entered. Police ejected them and turned back a second attempt by them to breach another entrance.
• He agreed, in a statement read in the chamber on Monday, to surrender his electronic access card to the Capitol. He also agreed not to let unauthorized people to enter the Capitol, which has been closed to the public since March 18, 2020, at the start of the pandemic. He also agreed to give 24-hour notice before he enters the Capitol.
In addition, Kotek joined other members — not specified in the speaker's press release — in a formal complaint against Nearman filed with the Legislative Equity Office. The complaint alleges that Nearman's actions created a hostile work environment in the Capitol. This action could result in a subsequent investigation by the House Committee on Conduct, which has equal number of members from both parties.
The Oregon Constitution has a provision for expulsion of members based on "disorderly behavior," which extends beyond criminal conduct. A two-thirds majority is required.
Nearman was seated along with other House members on Monday.
A 1994 constitutional change does provide for immediate removal of legislators convicted of a felony, even if they appeal their convictions. Nearman has not been charged; any such action would await the results of the State Police investigation and a review by the Marion County district attorney. Official misconduct, which covers a range of activities, could be a potential charge against him.
On Sunday, House Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby acknowledged the seriousness of the investigation of Rep. Nearman in her own statement:
"I have consistently stood for the right to protest peacefully while condemning intimidation, violence and destruction.
"Though I do not agree with the decision to close the Capitol to the public, a recently released video shows Rep. Nearman opened a door and violent protesters then entered the Capitol. The melee with police which follows is difficult to watch without a profound sense of gratitude to the troopers who were able to prevent further violence that could have recklessly put more people in harm's way. The impacts to the Capitol community are an elevated risk for violence within the building, which is significant.
"The investigation into this incident by law enforcement is under way and must be allowed to be completed. If the investigation finds that actions taken were criminal, legislators are not above the law and will be held responsible. As we affirm the need for due process and the right of the public to fully engage in the work of the legislature, we commit to protect public safety and hold accountable to those who would willfully undermine that commitment."
NOTE: Corrects that the Oregon Constitution does provide for expulsion of legislators based on "disorderly behavior" upon a two-thirds majority vote. It is a separate section from the House and Senate empowered to judge the qualifications oftheir members.
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