A new House committee will consider the fate of Rep. Mike Nearman in connection with the Dec. 21 breach of the closed Capitol during a special session of the Oregon Legislature.
House Speaker Tina Kotek announced her appointment Monday, June 7, of three Democrats and three Republicans after the disclosure of a second video during which the Polk County Republican appears to be advising anti-lockdown protesters how to get in touch with someone who would let them inside the building.
Nearman is already under criminal indictment on charges of first-degree official misconduct and second-degree criminal trespass in connection with the Dec. 21 incident. He was identified on video surveillance footage as the individual who opened a door on the northwest side and allowed protesters to enter the Capitol. Police subsequently ejected the protesters and blocked a second attempt to breach the building at a different entrance.
The Capitol has been closed since March 18, 2020, at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.
Both charges are misdemeanors, maximum punishment for which are one year in jail and a fine of $6,250. Convictions do not automatically result in expulsion from the Legislature, unlike felonies.
The criminal proceeding in Marion County Circuit Court is separate from what the Oregon House does under its constitutional authority to discipline members.
Kotek, a Democrat from Portland, has already called on Nearman to resign. Nearman, 57, is a retired software engineer who lives outside Independence. Kotek disclosed in January that Nearman was under investigation by the Oregon State Police after a review of the surveillance footage.
"The severity of Representative Nearman's actions and last week's revelation that they were premeditated require a special committee to immediately consider expelling him from the House of Representatives.
"He knowingly put the physical safety of everyone in the Capitol — lawmakers, staff and law enforcement — in jeopardy. As we saw in January at the U.S. Capitol, the ramifications could have been dire if law enforcement had not stepped in so quickly. This is an unprecedented situation facing the Legislature. It is beyond a workplace conduct issue and must be treated as such."
Other than a press release mainly aimed at questioning Kotek's motives in identifying him, Nearman has not offered any public explanation of his Dec. 21 action, except to say that he disagreed with the Capitol lockdown.
The special committee is expected to meet later in the week.
The naming of the special committee appears to be aimed at putting an expulsion motion directly to a vote of the full House. Under the Oregon Constitution, members can be disciplined for "disruptive behavior," and a two-thirds majority of the relevant chamber is required for the ultimate punishment of expulsion, which has never been invoked during Oregon's 162 years of statehood.
Rep. Paul Holvey, a Democrat from Eugene and the speaker pro tem, is the chairman of the special committee on the Dec. 21 special session.
Other members are Majority Leader Barbara Smith Warner, D-Portland, Majority Whip Andrea Salinas, D-Lake Oswego; Republican Leader Christine Drazan of Canby; Deputy Republican Leader Daniel Bonham of The Dalles, and Republican Whip Duane Stark of Grants Pass.
Last week, a special investigator filed a report with the House Committee on Conduct about Nearman, concluding that he "more likely than not" aided the breach, after two complaints were filed alleging that he created a hostile work environment by his action Dec. 21. But under House rules, only the committee can determine whether he broke the rule. Kotek's action moves the proceeding against Nearman to a different committee.
Earlier this year, the committee did recommend expulsion of Rep. Diego Hernandez after it concluded it found 18 violations of the rule against creating a hostile work environment. The three-term Democrat from East Portland resigned his District 47 seat before a scheduled House vote on the recommendation.