As he faces down allegations of knowingly allowing right-wing demonstrators into a locked state Capitol, it is perhaps fitting that state Rep. Mike Nearman is being charged $365 for an automatic door closer.
With a dark bronze finish in step with the Capitol’s “stripped classical” aesthetic and heavy-duty features designed for long-term use, the piece of equipment is part of a $2,712.93 bill sent to Nearman by legislative administration earlier this week.
Other items on that list: More than $2,100 worth of unspecified repairs and painting to the area in and around the vestibule where, surveillance footage shows, Nearman let demonstrators gain a foothold on Dec. 21. Five gallons of paint, in “westhighland white.” An $80, wall-mounted hand sanitizer dispenser.
What’s not immediately clear is whether Nearman plans to pay that invoice. The Polk County Republican has admitted no wrongdoing in the incident, and he’s kept comments to a minimum while a criminal investigation and internal legislative investigation play out. He did not respond to an inquiry on Thursday.
Even less clear is what the Legislature can do if Nearman refuses to pay.
“There’s not a lot of history in fines for members, so I’d have to talk to Legislative Counsel for a deep dive answer,” Brett Hanes, the state’s interim legislative administrator, said in an email.
Since Nearman was invoiced under the Legislature’s personnel rules, Hanes said, the state can’t garnish the lawmaker’s paycheck without his permission.
“Should a member refuse to pay a fine, it would most likely go to collections,” Hanes wrote.
The $2,700 bill to Nearman is just one consequence the conservative lawmaker has faced since Dec. 21. On that date, as the Legislature met for a one-day special session, Nearman walked out of an exit on the north side of the building near where far-right demonstrators were demanding entrance.
Surveillance footage shows he made no attempt to stop protesters as they held the door open and entered the Capitol. It also shows Nearman immediately walking around to the other side of the building and re-entering via another door.
Oregon state troopers and Salem police officers eventually scuffled with some people in the building, before a standoff ensued and several people were arrested. At one point, officers were sprayed with bear mace. Later in the day, after the Capitol had been cleared, some demonstrators shattered glass doors and assaulted journalists.
Nearman’s role in the incident came to light in January, a day after an insurrection at the U.S. Capitol had raised further alarm bells about Capitol security. On Jan. 11, House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, announced she was stripping Nearman of his legislative committee assignments. The lawmaker also agreed to hand in the badge granting him unfettered access to the Capitol, and to give notice before he planned on coming to the building.
Kotek’s office also announced at the time she would invoice Nearman for $2,000 to “cover the costs to fix the damage that resulted when he allowed the rioters to enter Capitol vestibule.” The actual bill sent Tuesday is larger than that but, under the rules Kotek is using, Nearman could have been fined up to $5,000.
Nearman is likely to face more consequences. The Oregon State Police are investigating the Dec. 21 incident for potential criminal charges. And a workplace complaint filed by Kotek and other lawmakers will ensure an internal investigation that could land the lawmaker official sanctions, up to expulsion.
Nearman has kept a relatively low profile since allegations against him went public. In a statement, he suggested he was the victim of a political attack by Kotek and that he was being subjected to “mob justice.”
In the same statement, he alluded to his belief that, like the right-wing demonstrators he allowed past a locked door, the state Capitol should be open to the public despite the risks of COVID-19.
“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.”