(The Center Square) – For the first time in its history, the Oregon Legislature has cast out one of its own for helping a violent mob into the state capitol building on video.
On Thursday, now-former state Rep. Mike Nearman was expelled from his House seat by a vote of 59-1. The lone "no" vote against the House resolution removing him from the chamber came from Nearman. He is now the first member of the state legislature to be expelled for misconduct.
Nearman was first seen on surveillance footage opening a locked door to a mob of some 300 Trump supporters into the state capitol building on Dec. 21, 2020. The building was closed to the general public at the time in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Six members of the mob were arrested on criminal charges. Among those assaulted at the scene were two journalists and several police officers.
The Polk County Republican spent six months under criminal investigation by the Oregon State Police until he was formally charged by the Marion County District Attorney's Office last month with official misconduct and criminal trespass. The two misdemeanor charges carry penalties of up to $7,500 and 18 months in jail combined. His first hearing is slated for June 29.
Nearman saw immediate calls for his resignation from his Democratic colleagues, social justice groups and civic leaders as soon as the video surfaced. Republicans shied away from calling on the four-term state lawmaker to resign until a second video surfaced last week showing him coaching members of the Dec. 21 mob in the Salem office of the Freedom Foundation where he worked as a senior fellow. The think tank denies any involvement in the Dec. 21 incident.
First elected in 2015, Nearman was among the most right-wing members of the House and longtime opponent to gay marriage and immigration. He was one of three Oregon Republican lawmakers to sue Gov. Kate Brown over her COVID rules last summer. He filed a petition this session to repeal a bill allowing "gun-free zones" banning the kind of far-right rallies he's headlined.
The number of votes needed to expel and Nearman from his House seat was 40, or two-thirds of the chamber. On Thursday, House Democrats not only pried the three Republican votes needed for expulsion but landed face-time with Nearman one last time.
Nearman did not apologize for his actions on Thursday night some hours after a bipartisan House committee voted 6-0 to advance the expulsion vote. He did not answer any questions from the committee during that afternoon's public hearing on advice from his attorney.
Speaking on the House floor, Nearman insisted the state legislature violated the Oregon Constitution by closing its doors to the public. House rules state "All deliberations and meetings of the House shall be open to the press and public." It does not specify through what medium, virtual or otherwise, state legislative meetings can be viewed.
"You're considering expelling a member, for the first time in history, because he thinks that people should have access to their Capitol, especially during session," Nearman said. "After this session, we're all going to go out to dinner or stop at the grocery store, or maybe tomorrow we'll shop and buy clothes or get our oil change, because all these places are open, but not this building."
House Democrats set a somber tone on the House floor during the historic vote. Some said the trauma they experienced on Dec. 21 would not leave with Nearman.
"On December 21st, a man with a bullhorn was standing below my office window shouting, 'We're coming for you!' as a group of people carrying semi-automatic weapons was looking into my and my colleagues' office windows," said state Rep. Anna Williams, D-Hood River. "Rep. Mike Nearman invited them into the Capitol."
Off the House floor, some of Nearman's closest Republican confidants described his actions as a betrayal. They included state Rep. Bill Post, R-Keizer, who initially claimed the surveillance footage showing Nearman opening the capitol door did not prove a motive. He has since changed his mind.
"About five weeks ago, as one of the closest colleagues he has in the Capitol, I asked 'is there ANY further video or other evidence?'" Post wrote on his personal website. "He said 'no.' That is the crux of the problem: he lied. To me personally and to the Republican caucus."
It's unclear from the House resolution passed Thursday night whether Nearman will be eligible to serve in public office.
Nearman was expelled by his colleagues to the sound of his supporters pounding on the same capitol doors rioters broke through on Dec. 21. The small protest of about 30 people with "People's Rights"—a group founded by anti-government militia leader Ammon Bundy—stood outside booing from the video kiosks outside the capitol building.
The group greeted Nearman and spoke with him briefly as he drove off from the building and heckled his departing colleagues.
"We're coming after you next, Tina!" one protester shouted in reference to House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland.
The Oregon Legislature is scheduled to adjourn its regular session on June 28.