I need to find new descriptions for life in Salem and at the Oregon Capitol. “Weird” is both redundant and insufficient.
Let’s see. State Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, who has happily occupied a position at a far edge of the House Republican Caucus, is now accused of opening a locked Capitol door so protesters could enter during the Dec. 21, 2020, special legislative session. The protesters clashed with police before being dispersed. House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said all options are being locked at for disciplining Nearman.
This week’s news has been dominated by violent protests, particularly at the U.S. Capitol but also across the country. Sen. Brian Boquist, R-Dallas, who is not aligned with Nearman, has been remarkably prescient about the political potential for such events.
In the aftermath of sometimes-violent protests, the Oregon State Police now will train legislators, Capitol staff, journalists and others on building security protocols, including potential evacuations.
Concrete barricades recently were installed in front of the Capitol, which remains closed to the public because of COVID-19 measures. At a virtual press conference on Thursday, Kotek and Senate President Peter Courtney, D-Salem, declined to identify the additional security measures being undertaken.
Courtney worries about a “Malheur II” engulfing the Capitol, a reference to the armed occupation five years ago of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Eastern Oregon. More clashes occurred between groups of protesters this week and last in Salem, to the point that police stopped even Courtney from reaching the Capitol on Wednesday.
The Legislature will meet Monday to swear in newly elected, re-elected and appointed members – all 60 House members and 17 of the 30 senators. Except, the Senate will be down to 29. Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby, informed colleagues that come Sunday, he is resigning.
The newest addition is Senator-to-be Kayse Jama, whom the Multnomah and Clackamas county commissioners on Wednesday appointed to fill the District 24 seat held by Sen. Shemia Fagan, D-Portland, who is the new secretary of state. Jama came to Portland as a refugee from war-torn Somalia, became a U.S. citizen and is executive director of Unite Oregon. He will be the first Muslim member of the Oregon Senate, according to Willamette Week.
There will be no joint session on Monday of the House and Senate to hear Gov. Kate Brown’s customary State of the State Address. Legislative leaders, not Brown, revealed that her speech would be postponed.
Courtney said a joint session would be unsafe and a violation of the health protocols being adopted Monday in Senate and House. I asked who decided the governor’s speech would be postponed. He didn’t know.
Said Courtney: “I didn’t tell the governor, ‘You’re not speaking.’ That would not be in our best interest of the Legislature to say that.”
Said Kotek: “I assume there will be a State of the State Address sometime in the future.”
As I’ve noted before, Brown never gave a State of the State speech last year, which is unusual for a governor.
Courtney guaranteed that a quorum of Senate Democrats and Republicans would be present Monday for the swearings-in. He and Senate Republican Leader Fred Girod, of Lyons, have a longtime relationship and talk by phone several times a day.
Kotek and Courtney expect Republicans to object to the proposed rules that will continue keeping the Capitol closed to the public. The majority Democrats have the votes to adopt those rules, which include expanded opportunities for public testimony via videoconference and email.
“We’ve got a Capitol that, basically, the public is not in (at) this time. We’re going to try hard to get them in as soon as we can,” Courtney said.
After next week’s organizing days, the 2021 Legislature formally begins work on Tuesday, Jan. 19. Under the Capitol Operations Safety Plan that Kotek and Courtney announced, legislative committees will meet by video conference for the foreseeable future. For weeks and perhaps months, the House and Senate will hold floor sessions only for the formal introduction of bills and moving those bills along to committees.
“All members will have to be adaptable and flexible,” Kotek said.
As officials respond to security concerns, health protocols and other issues, Courtney said, “Your life changes daily around this place.”
Legislators already have submitted around 3,000 bills.
As for new Secretary of State Fagan, she was sworn in Monday on the steps of Dufur School with Judge Janet Stauffer physically distanced and using a bullhorn to administer the oath of office.
Meanwhile, fellow Democrat Ellen Rosenblum was sworn in, via Zoom, for a third term as attorney general. Kerry Tymchuk, head of the Oregon Historical Society, noted that Rosenblum would achieve the third-longest tenure of any Oregon AG by the time she completes her new four-year term.
The longest-serving attorney general was Republican Isaac H. Van Winkle. He was appointed on Oct. 14, 1920, by Republican Gov. Ben Olcott, was elected six times, and died in office on Dec. 14, 1943.
As for Olcott, he was known for his staunch opposition to the Ku Klux Klan, including issuing a proclamation in 1922 that warned, “Dangerous forces are insidiously gaining a foothold in Oregon.” For his efforts, Olcott was voted out of office in that year’s gubernatorial election.