The Oregon House voted 59–1 Thursday to expel Rep. Mike Nearman, the first time it has ejected a sitting representative.
Lawmakers removed Nearman because he let far-right demonstrators, some of whom were armed, into the Capitol on December 21st while lawmakers were holding a special session. The Capitol was closed to the public due to the pandemic and remains so.
That means his seat representing a rural district west of Salem will likely sit vacant for the remainder of the legislative session, which must wrap up by June 27th.
Nearman was the only one to vote against his removal, having lost the support of every single one of his Republican colleagues, who decided he was a liability.
“The Oregon House of Representatives has taken the unprecedented step of expelling one of its members,” said House Speaker Tina Kotek, a Democrat.
“Elected leaders must be held to the highest possible standard. The facts are clear that Mr. Nearman unapologetically coordinated and planned a breach of the Oregon State Capitol. His actions were blatant and deliberate, and he has shown no remorse for jeopardizing the safety of every person in the Capitol that day.”
“Given the extraordinary circumstances, this was the only reasonable path forward. Safety – for the public, building employees, legislators and their staff – continues to be my top priority in managing this extraordinary session.”
Top House Republican Christine Drazan offered a similar response to the vote, using the words “higher standard” instead of “highest possible standard”.
“The expulsion of a member for disorderly conduct is an extraordinary vote that changes the chamber, the Legislature and our state,” Drazan said.
“Representative Nearman took credit for his principles without taking responsibility for the consequences of his actions. His plan to let people into the Capitol ended with violence, property destruction and injured cops.”
“This disregard for the rule of law leads us deeper into civil unrest and division. If we want to turn our state around we must hold ourselves accountable to a higher standard as we work to lead and serve the greater good.”
Video footage from the 21st depicts Nearman opening the door to the closed, locked Capitol to allow an armed band of militant right wing extremists into the building. It was something that Nearman had planned on doing in advance:
Last week, a video from earlier in December surfaced which showed Nearman instructing viewers how they should wait outside an entrance to the Capitol and text his cell phone.
Then, “somebody might exit that door while you’re standing there,” Nearman said, a plan he dubbed “Operation Hall Pass.”
In an interview Monday with a conservative radio host, Nearman said the group he instructed on how to text him when they arrived outside a door at the Capitol were “mostly blue-haired old ladies.”
That did not accurately describe the group that showed up at the Capitol and entered the door Nearman opened.
Rather, the demonstrators included the right-wing, Vancouver-based group Patriot Prayer known for street brawls, people wearing clothing with Three Percenters militia logos and a Confederate flag hat and people armed with rifles and wearing military gear.
“Operation Hall Pass” was a success, at least in that it enabled members of the Three Percenters to get inside of the building, threatening the safety of Oregon state legislators and their staff. Due to the intervention of the Oregon State Police, the violent mob was fortunately stopped from going very far. (In the video, you can see the police rushing to the open door to block the way forward.)
Nearman then lied to his colleagues when asked about his involvement.
“Mike told us that there is no further evidence and certainly not any that would show premeditation,” Republican Representative Bill Post (25th-District: Keizer) said in a statement. “I asked, ‘is there any further video or other evidence?’ He said ‘no.’ That is the crux of the problem: he lied. To me personally and to the House Republican caucus. This pains me to no end to reveal. He is my friend.”
Nearman was given unlimited time by the House Democratic majority to speak against his expulsion. He offered only brief remarks, reiterating that he thinks the Capitol should be open to the public, and declining to apologize for his actions.
The onset of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring of 2020 prompted the closure of most public buildings in Oregon and many other places. Since then, building access has become something of an obsession for many Republicans, even though legislative proceedings remain accessible through electronic means.
The science shows that large gatherings of people can easily become superspreader events that allow COVID-19 to be rapidly and effectively transmitted. That is why buildings like the Capitol were closed to all except those who work there. Newer variants of COVID-19 are even more transmissible than the first permutation of the virus, which makes adherence to physical distancing and masking protocols all the more important for the unvaccinated.
Mike Nearman’s expulsion is a watershed moment for the Pacific Northwest. It is the first time that a right wing extremist has been kicked out of a state legislature in our region. Matt Shea should have been the first last biennium, but sadly, Washington State Republicans refused to join Democrats in moving to oust him. Oregon House Republicans are to be commended for coming together and deciding that Nearman had to go. That took discipline and unity.
Other extremists, like Washington’s Robert Sutherland, remain in the Pacific Northwest’s legislatures and continue to undermine democracy and the rule of law. The work to hold them accountable must continue.