In an unprecedented move Thursday, Representative Mike Nearman, R-Independence, became the first member ever expelled from the Oregon Legislature, following new revelations about his foreknowledge and deliberate role in helping armed demonstraters breach the state Capitol last December.
The vote to remove him from office was 59-1 — with only Nearman himself opposed.
Prior security footage showed that on Dec. 21, Nearman had opened the doors of the building — which was closed to the public at the time — to armed right-wing protesters who went on to clash violently with police in the halls of the state Capitol.
Nearman’s actions were criticized by most of his House colleagues — including Republican allies such as Minority Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby.
But some, including Drazan, said they did not believe he had intended to allow people into the Capitol — until new footage emerged that showed Nearman sharing his cellphone number with Polk County constituents and outlining in broad strokes how he would aid the effort to breach the building (a plan he called “Operation Hall Pass”).
In an interview on OPB’s Think Out Loud Thursday, Drazan explained how the new revelations had changed her view, saying she believes people might have been killed without the quick intervention of law enforcement.
“Public service is a calling, and we have got to begin to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Drazan said. “His actions do not meet that standard.”
Drazan said she agreed with what she still believes was Nearman’s motivating principle — that the public should have had greater access to legislative proceedings during the pandemic — but that he had shown terrible judgment in exercising that principle by empowering a violent mob to breach Capitol security.
If Nearman had, instead, arranged for a group of peaceful demonstrators to enter the building and display signs of protest, she would have supported that as an act of civil disobedience, she said.
Nearman was already under criminal investigation for his actions, but the new video appeared to be the final straw for the House Republican caucus, which on Monday united in a renewed call for him to step down.
In the OPB interview, Drazan called the expulsion vote on the House floor “a dramatic loss for our state” — which she’d hoped to avoid by encouraging Nearman to “do the right thing” and resign.
When he refused, the House took “appropriate” action, according to House Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, given “the gravity of former Representative Nearman’s blatant actions.”
“He caused a genuine safety risk for every single person in the building, especially to our Jewish and Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC) legislators and Capitol staff,” she said.
Prior to the vote, the bipartisan House Special Committee on December 21 unanimously approved House Resolution 3, which resolved that Nearman engaged in disorderly behavior and should be expelled from the Legislature.
“It’s impossible to overstate the seriousness of what took place on December 21,” said Representative Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, who chaired the special committee. (Drazan also sat on the committee as one of its three Republican members.)
“The committee that approved this expulsion resolution conducted a fair process that took into account all available facts and evidence. Due process is essential given the significance of today’s vote, and the committee acted accordingly.”
Representative Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego, said it is important to remember that lawmakers had convened on Dec. 21 to consider critical aid, funding and programs related to the state’s pandemic response.
“This was the worst point of the pandemic,” she said. “We were regularly seeing well over a thousand cases a day, and vaccines weren’t available yet. Not only did Nearman put every one of us in harm’s way, but he put all of this work to help Oregonians at risk.”
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