By ANDREW SELSKY, Associated Press
SALEM, Ore. (AP) — Almost a half-year after a Republican legislator let violent, far-right protesters into the Oregon State Capitol, a committee of six lawmakers on Thursday approved a resolution recommended he be the first member of the House to be expelled in its 160-year history.
Rep. Paul Holvey, the committee chairman, said at the start of the video-conference hearing that the protesters Rep. Mike Nearman let in had planned to occupy the Capitol. Some were armed.
The panel’s unanimous recommendation that Nearman be removed from the Legislature for disorderly behavior now goes to the full state House for consideration. The House was scheduled to consider the resolution Thursday evening.
Nearman was seen on security camera video opening a door to protesters on Dec. 21 as lawmakers met in emergency session to deal with economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic. Protesters barged into the building, which was closed to the public because of coronavirus safety protocols, got into shoving matches with police and sprayed officers with bear spray.
“It’s impossible to overstate the seriousness of the reason we are here today,” Holvey said. “Rep. Nearman enabled armed, violent protesters to enter the Capitol, breaching the security of the Capitol, which was officially closed to the public, and also endangered the authorized staff and legislators inside the building.”
Some of the protesters had guns. Among those who gathered outside the Capitol in Salem that day were people espousing false QAnon conspiracy theories about Democrats kidnapping babies. They carried American flags and President Donald Trump banners. One carried a sign calling for the arrest of Democratic Gov. Kate Brown, Holvey said.
“Nobody should have opened the door to the people who were here that day,” said committee member Rep. Daniel Bonham, a Republican. “Absolutely terrible judgment that day to open that door.”
Nearman was unapologetic as he read a prepared statement to the committee.
“The fact is that I exited the building and members of the public entered into the Capitol building, a place they had a right to be — a place the Legislative Assembly had no right to exclude them from,” Nearman said. He said that on the advice of his attorney he would not answer questions.
Hundreds of people provided written testimony to the House Special Committee On December 21, 2020, which is composed of three Democrats and three Republicans.
Some people who testified excoriated Nearman as a seditionist. Others praised him for letting people into the Capitol, saying people should be allowed to attend even though hearings are livestreamed on video.
“Mike Nearman’s behavior … was abhorrent and anti-democratic,” David Alba said. “Furthermore, by aiding and supporting extremists, he has placed people’s lives in danger. He should be removed from office and he is not fit to represent my district.”
After video emerged in local news reports Friday showing Nearman choreographing how he would let protesters into the Capitol, pinpointing the door he would open for them and disclosing his cellphone number so protesters could text him, all of his House GOP colleagues on Monday strongly recommended he step down.
But Nearman’s supporters said they elected him and the House should not expel him. One supporter suggested those 22 GOP lawmakers be voted out of office.
“We see you compromising Republicans that whittle away at concepts of morality, liberty, and justice to take a knee to the woke mob,” Casey Ocupe said in written testimony. “May your Republican constituents take no mercy on you.”
On Monday, House Speaker Tina Kotek introduced a resolution that would have the House expel Nearman if two-thirds of its members vote in favor. She appointed the committee to consider the matter.
Kotek credited riot police, who finally pushed out the protesters, with preventing a full-scale assault like the one by Trump supporters at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6. She said some were visibly injured and shaken.
“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,” the Democrat said.
Nearman has not responded to numerous requests from The Associated Press for comment. He told a conservative radio talk show that a video presentation he held on Dec. 16 “was me setting up the 21st.” He indicated that his actions were civil disobedience because he objected to the Capitol being closed to the public.
Nearman also faces two misdemeanor criminal charges and has said he will seek a trial by jury.
This story has been corrected to reflect that panel’s recommendation to expel Rep. Mike Nearman happened Thursday, not Monday.
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