Politics

Rep. Mike Nearman says he’s been subjected to threats, ‘mob justice’ after allowing Capitol breach

By Dirk VanderHart (OPB)
Jan. 13, 2021 2:50 a.m. Updated: Jan. 13, 2021 4:04 a.m.

Nearman faces sweeping discipline after allowing demonstrators into the Capitol on Dec. 21. He says House Speaker Tina Kotek is playing politics.

Screen capture from video footage

An Oregon state Republican lawmaker who allowed far-right demonstrators to breach the state Capitol last month said Tuesday he’s been subjected to “criticism, attacks at my home and threats.”

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In the most substantive statement he’s issued since OPB reported his involvement in the Dec 21 breach, state Rep. Mike Nearman also suggested that House Speaker Tina Kotek had subjected him to “mob justice.”

“The fact that she was in possession of a video for sixteen days, and only chose to reveal the video and implicate me on the day after an ugly mob descended on the Capitol in Washington, DC, tells me that her motivations are about politics and not about safety,” Nearman said in a statement. “The timing of the release is not lost on my wife, who has also had to endure a share of attacks.”

The video Nearman referenced is surveillance footage obtained by OPB and other outlets via a public records law request. It showed Nearman allowing demonstrators into the Capitol on Dec. 21, while his fellow House members met upstairs.

By exiting the Capitol through a door where demonstrators were gathered, Nearman appears to have purposefully allowed them to make their way into the Capitol, where some scuffled with and allegedly assaulted police. A person familiar with the investigation told OPB that Nearman immediately walked around the building and re-entered.

Nearman’s statement does not specifically address those actions but does nod to concerns he and other Republicans have voiced about the ongoing closure of the Capitol due to COVID-19. Republican lawmakers have argued the state Constitution requires the building to be open if the Legislature is in session — and that merely conducting hearings virtually isn’t enough.

“I don’t condone violence nor participate in it,” the statement said. “I do think that when Article IV, Section 14 of the Oregon Constitution says that the legislative proceedings shall be ‘open,’ it means open, and as anyone who has spent the last nine months staring at a screen doing virtual meetings will tell you, it’s not the same thing as being open.”

The statement comes a day after Kotek, D-Portland, initiated sweeping discipline against Nearman. The House speaker announced she was stripping him of his committee assignments and assessing a fine of $2,000 for damage done to the Capitol. She also said she’d file a formal complaint that could lead to more serious discipline, including expulsion from the Legislature.

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Kotek and other Democratic lawmakers have since called on Nearman to resign. He has agreed to voluntarily turn in a key card granting him unfettered access to the Capitol and to give 24 hours’ notice before coming to the building.

While Nearman contends Kotek waited to unveil his actions until after a Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol as a political attack, word of his potential involvement had circulated long before the attempted insurrection.

OPB had repeatedly inquired about his alleged actions before Jan. 6 but was ignored by the House Republican Office. The newsroom also made repeated attempts to reach Nearman and filed a public records request for surveillance footage on Jan. 5.

Kotek publicly announced that such footage existed in a Jan. 7 press call. She said at the time she had been waiting until a criminal investigation into Nearman’s conduct was complete before making a statement, but had decided to change course.

Legislative administration eventually released the surveillance footage Jan. 8. The criminal investigation is ongoing.

In his statement, Nearman poses a set of six questions he believes reporters should ask Kotek. They include, “Did it occur to you that releasing that video on the day after the unrest in Washington, DC, that there might be a safety impact to Rep. Nearman?” and “How do you know what Rep. Nearman’s intent was?”

Nearman also repeatedly referred to the fact that a staffer in Kotek’s office, Kristina Narayan, was arrested for interfering with a peace officer during a protest in Portland over the summer. Like many people arrested for low-level offenses during protests in the city, Narayan was not ultimately charged with a crime.

“I hope for due process, and not the mob justice to which Speaker Kotek is subjecting me,” Nearman wrote. “I also hope for a similar outcome enjoyed by her staffer...”

Nearman’s role in allowing demonstrators into the Capitol has led to both national headlines and consequences closer to home.

While Nearman’s mailing address lists Independence as his home, and he is frequently designated in news reports as “R-Independence,” the city’s manager put out a statement last week saying that’s inaccurate, and noting the city is actually part of another legislative district.

“Rep. Nearman lives in rural Polk County, and receives his mail through the Independence post office; hence the Independence address,” Independence City Manager Tom Pessemier said. “He does not live in the city.”

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