A Republican state lawmaker who let far-right demonstrators into the Oregon Capitol last month has lost his committee responsibilities and will forfeit unfettered access to the statehouse, as calls for his resignation grow.
Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, was stripped of his legislative committee assignments and fined $2,000 for damage that occurred after he allowed demonstrators to breach the building, House Speaker Tina Kotek announced Monday. As speaker, Kotek has authority to unilaterally impose both consequences.
Meanwhile, Nearman has agreed to sign an agreement that he forfeit a badge granting access to the Capitol, give 24-hours notice before coming to the building, and not allow “non-authorized personnel” access to the building. Nearman read those terms on the House floor Monday afternoon, after a closed-door debate in which some Democrats had urged a floor vote to make them more solid. No vote was ultimately held.
The matter is unlikely to end there. Kotek on Monday called on Nearman to resign, and announced a formal complaint that could result in additional consequences, up to expulsion.
“His actions have created immense fear among legislators and Capitol staff,” Kotek said in a statement. “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.”
On top of consequences within the Capitol, Nearman is the subject of a criminal investigation. The lawmaker, one of the chamber’s most conservative Republicans, was sworn in for his fourth term Monday morning.
The sanctions are the first formal consequences for Nearman since he was captured on surveillance cameras exiting the Capitol on Dec. 21 through a door where far-right demonstrators had gathered and were demanding access to the closed building.
Members of the crowd rushed in as Nearman exited. A source with knowledge of the matter has told OPB that Nearman immediately walked around the building and re-entered on the other side.
Shortly afterward, demonstrators scuffled with police who were trying to push the crowd out of the building. One of the protesters allegedly sprayed officers with mace, and a standoff ensued when the crowd made its way into a Capitol vestibule. Two people were arrested before demonstrators were cleared from the building.
Later, a crowd outside the Capitol broke glass doors and assaulted journalists.
Nearman’s involvement has led to national headlines and online demands that he resign or be expelled from the Legislature. Coming shortly before a far-right mob stormed the U.S. Capitol, the Dec. 21 breach has also prompted heightened concerns about lawmakers’ safety in an upcoming legislative session.
House Republicans had been largely silent on Nearman’s actions until Sunday, when House Minority Leader Christine Drazan, R-Canby, issued a statement that the footage was “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.”
Drazan acknowledged Nearman’s role in the chaotic scene, but did not say whether she supported sanctions. Instead, she suggested an ongoing criminal investigation into Nearman’s actions needed to be completed.
“If the investigation finds that actions taken were criminal, legislators are not above the law and will be held responsible,” Drazan’s statement said. “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.”
Compared to other lawmakers, Nearman’s expected role in the upcoming session was already limited. In announcing assignments last month, Kotek had placed Nearman on two legislative committees: a budget subcommittee on general government and a joint committee on technology.
Absent those assignments, Nearman will be left with little to do when committees begin meeting next week. The initial months of the 2021 legislative session will be conducted almost entirely via virtual committee hearings.
Though rare, it’s not unprecedented for a presiding officer like Kotek to strip a member of their committee assignments. Senate President Peter Courtney, a Democrat, took a similar step in 2017 after harassment allegations emerged against then-Sen. Jeff Kruse, R-Roseburg. Kruse eventually resigned his position.
Kotek’s announcement to lawmakers that she would strip Nearman of his assignments came as the Legislature met to lay the groundwork for the legislative session that officially begins on Jan. 19.
Meeting Monday morning, with state police posted throughout the Capitol, the House swore in all of its members. In an expected move, the chamber also reelected Kotek as speaker, giving her an unprecedented fifth two-year term leading the House.
Kotek had faced a potential intra-party challenge, after state Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, announced in November she would also seek the speaker’s office. But the two politicians hammered out a deal earlier this month that saw Bynum suspending her challenge in exchange for a series of proposals she believes will help lawmakers of color win leadership positions.