County commissioners on Tuesday resoundingly rejected the opportunity to re-appoint former Republican lawmaker Mike Nearman to his old seat in the state House of Representatives.
Rather, during a two-hour hearing, commissioners from Polk, Marion, Yamhill and Benton counties largely agreed Anna Scharf — a staffer in Nearman’s office until he was expelled June 10 — should represent House District 23.
Scharf was the top choice for 9 of the 11 county officials who voted. She seemed to impress the panel with her experience in the Capitol, knowledge on agricultural issues, and her familiarity working with the district’s constituents on Nearman’s behalf.
“My firm belief in the legislative process, along with my belief in the rule of law are principles that I will never compromise,” Scharf told county commissioners in one of several statements at the hearing that nodded to criminal charges Nearman faces in connection with allowing far-right demonstrators into the Capitol on Dec. 21. “I will strive to be that kind of representative for you.”
The lopsided result did not seem a foregone conclusion. Many commissioners said any of the other candidates, besides Nearman, would make suitable representatives. Also up for consideration were: 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; and former Dallas city councilor Micky Garus, who in the past has drawn fire for intolerant statements.
Under the rules for filling a legislative vacancy, up to five nominees are picked by the political party that last controlled the seat, and commissioners in the counties that overlap with the district are given the final say.
For his part, Nearman did not appear to expect appointment, even after he received the most votes in a nominating process conducted by the Oregon Republican Party. Twice during the meeting, the former four-term lawmaker acknowledged that his central strongpoint was defying supermajority Democrats, rather than working with them to achieve results for his district.
“If you want someone to go to Salem and bring home the bacon for HD 23 and be in the Speaker’s office wheeling and dealing… I’m maybe not your guy,” Nearman said in a brief opening statement. “I don’t have a good track record in doing that. But if you want someone who’s going to stand up to powerful people there, I’m willing to do that.”
Later, Nearman suggested the appointment process itself was flawed, placing the decision with county commissioners who wanted their own bidding done in Salem rather than the voters he formerly represented.
“I was on the fence about whether or not to even put my name in,” he said. “I got so much support for me to do that that it was very difficult for me to say no.”
One commissioner, Yamhill County Chair Mary Starrett, voted for Nearman, giving credit to local Republican party members that made him their top choice.
“Do we pat the people on the head who made that decision and say, ‘You don’t know what’s good for you but we do?’” Starrett said. “Well, I’d like to give a little bit more credit to the people.”
Other commissioners felt differently. Polk County Commissioner Mike Ainsworth told Nearman at one point, “I don’t believe you should be here, Mike. Any one of the other four would do a wonderful job.”
Meanwhile, Yamhill County Commissioner Lindsay Berschauer noted that Nearman had been a political supporter of hers in the past, and she doesn’t think he “has a mean bone in his body.”
“But we have to consider the political reality in front of us,” Berschauer said. “Mike is still facing criminal proceedings, and the consequences of sending him back to Salem means that he has a diminished capacity to do his job. [House Speaker] Tina Kotek will make this community suffer, and I’m not okay with that.”
Swanson, the chief of staff for state Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, wound up receiving support from a single commissioner.
According to her LinkedIn profile, Scharf serves as an office manager on her Amity family farm alongside the duties as a legislative policy analyst that she’s had since early 2020. She has also advocated on agricultural issues in the legislature, served on a local school board, and formerly served as a lobbyist, she said.
While fielding questions from commissioners, she identified homelessness and what she said was government overreach during the COVID-19 pandemic as the chief issues facing House District 23. She said she was staunchly pro-life, and that her commitment to the Second Amendment would prompt her to “walk away” from any negotiations curtailing gun rights. And she said working in the Capitol has given her strong relationships with lawmakers in both major parties.
“House District 23 deserves someone who’s effective,” she said. “I’m not perfect. There’s a lot of learning to do.”
Once sworn in, Scharf will fill out the remainder of Nearman’s term, which runs through 2022.
Nearman faces two misdemeanor counts in connection with Dec. 21. The case is next scheduled for a hearing on July 19.