A man in a suit faces the camera and talks to another man whose back is to the camera.

Rep Mike Nearman, R-Independence, chats with fellow representatives on the House floor on April 11, 2019, at the Capitol in Salem, Ore.

Kaylee Domzalski / OPB

Former state Rep. Mike Nearman has emerged as his party’s top choice to retake the House seat he just lost.

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Nearman garnered the most votes among local Republican party members who’d assembled Friday to choose nominees for the now-vacant House District 23. The four-term lawmaker was expelled from the seat earlier this month, after video footage emerged showing him planning a Dec. 21 incursion into the state Capitol by right-wing demonstrators.

“I’m humbled that my fellow Precinct Committee-persons voted overwhelmingly to return me to the House as their representative,” Nearman said in a statement posted to the website of the Northwest Observer, which Nearman founded last year. “The fact that they chose me shows that they value someone with courage and principles that will stand up to Democrats, the media and even their own party to do what is right.”

Nearman did not respond to a request from OPB to discuss the nomination. The Oregon Republican Party has not returned multiple inquiries.

The fact that Nearman apparently garnered the most votes does not guarantee he’ll return to the House. The decision of who will fill the vacant seat will be made by county commissioners in Polk, Yamhill, Marion and Benton counties, the four counties which HD 23 touches.

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Polk County, which contains the most voters within the district, will have nearly 50% of the say in who is appointed to HD 23. And in a sign that Nearman could face steep odds, one of the county’s commissioners told OPB on Saturday he doesn’t support the former lawmaker.

“I will honor and respect the integrity of the decision of the House members, especially those from the Republican party that took considerable political risk to place their vote to expel,” Polk County Commissioner Craig Pope said in an email. “We can all work toward allowing another community member from HD23 to be recognized to represent in the interim and if Mr. Nearman wants to run in 2022 he can certainly take his shot at it.”

Nearman, a four-term lawmaker from Polk County also serves as vice chair of the Polk County Republicans, according to the group’s Facebook page.

The other nominees for the seat are: John Swanson, a Republican state Senate staffer who has helped coordinate campaigns for the party; Jim Bunn, a former state senator and one-term U.S. Representative; former Dallas city councilor Micky Garus, who in the past has drawn fire for intolerant statements; and Anna Scharf, a farmer in Amity.

County commissioners must meet to hear from candidates and make an appointment by July 12.

“The precinct committee-people [who made the nominations] are folks very close to Mike Nearman and have known him for a long time,” said Swanson, the longtime chief of staff to state Sen. Chuck Thomsen, who received the second-largest number of votes. “They are just showing solidarity with the man.”

Swanson said he doesn’t agree with the actions that got Nearman expelled: allowing far-right demonstrators into the Capitol, where they clashed with police. But Swanson said the reason Nearman opened the door for demonstrators has gotten lost in the narrative.

“The fact the building has been closed has created a situation where those making decisions don’t have to look people in the eye when they’re making decisions for them,” Swanson said. “I’m a huge believer in that.”

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