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Oregon legislators expel Rep. Mike Nearman, who helped armed protesters enter Capitol

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 heavily armed, into the Capitol on Dec. 21 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 27.

In late December, Oregon’s coronavirus case outbreak was at a near-high, with more than 1,100 new cases being reported each day and widespread availability of the vaccine still months away.

People who wanted to follow or influence legislative action could watch every committee meeting or floor session online and testify to committees via phone or video without having to drive to Salem.

Surveillance video captured Nearman, a four-term Republican, opening a door and exiting the building, stepping aside so that demonstrators waiting at the entrance could quickly slip into the building. The demonstrators clashed with police who attempted to expel them from the building and allegedly sprayed police with bear mace.

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.

Nearman already faces criminal misconduct charges for the incident and in a committee hearing on the expulsion proposal earlier Thursday, he declined to answer questions on the advice of his attorney. However, he said it was against the state Constitution to close the building to the public and it was “a place they had a right to be, a place the legislative assembly had no right to exclude them from.”

Democrats gave Nearman unlimited time to speak during the House floor debate on the resolution to remove him. But Nearman, the lone “no” vote against his removal, kept his comments brief and reiterated that “the citizens of Oregon should be able to instruct their legislators” and industry and interest groups should have in-person access to lobby lawmakers.

The 22 other House Republicans, all of whom voted to expel Nearman, remained silent during the floor debate. However, the top leaders of the caucus discussed Nearman’s actions earlier in the day.

House Republican Leader Christine Drazan, of Canby, said on the public radio show Think Out Loud that the demonstrators’ incursion could easily have turned deadly.

“(Nearman) made a decision to intentionally come up with a plan to let people into the building (when) he did not know how that would turn out and he was comfortable with that,” Drazan said. “I am not comfortable with that. There could easily have been a death on that day.”

In the committee hearing Thursday, Rep. Daniel Bonham, a Republican from The Dalles and the deputy House Republican leader, said Nearman exercised “terrible judgment” when he opened the door to demonstrators that morning.

“I saw the people outside,” Bonham said. “Nobody should have opened the door to the people that were here that day.”

Bonham said many lawmakers’ constituents are frustrated at the extended closure of the Capitol due to the…

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