Rep. Mike Nearman let demonstrators in Capitol during tense protest, House speaker says

Protesters fed up with pandemic restriction gathered outside the Capitol as lawmakers met on Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Jake Thomas/Salem Reporter)

State Rep. Mike Nearman, a Republican legislator from Independence, allowed a confrontational group of demonstrators to enter the Capitol last month, endangering legislators and staff, House Speaker Tina Kotek said during a press call on Thursday.

“Representative Nearman’s actions were completely unacceptable,” said Kotek, a Portland Democrat who noted that members of law enforcement were injured during the confrontation. “This is serious and his behavior was reckless and dangerous.”

Kotek said Oregon State Police confirmed that Nearman allowed demonstrators into the building, which has been closed to the public because of the pandemic, during a one-day special session of the Legislature on Dec. 21.

Kotek made the disclosure a day after a pro-Trump mob stormed the nation’s Capitol as Congress was finalizing the 2020 electoral results.

Calling Nearman’s actions a “serious, serious breach of public trust,” Kotek said that allowing the demonstrators into the building “is out of the Trump playbook and very much caters to white supremacist motivations.”

She said legislators and staff, particularly those of color, felt “terrorized” by the breach.

As the Legislature met in December, a crowd protesting pandemic restrictions gathered outside the building, some carrying long rifles. A group gained access to a vestibule on the building’s west side. They were blocked from entering the main building by police in riot gear.

Police prevented demonstrators from entering the building, but intruders sprayed officers with mace. The demonstration was declared an unlawful assembly. Later in the day, another group attempted to break into the Capitol and assaulted journalists. Several individuals involved with the incident face serious felony charges.

While a criminal investigation into the incident is currently open, she said the Legislature will be “moving forward in some form or fashion as it relates to Representative Nearman’s actions.”

Kotek said her office has consulted the legislative equity office about whether Nearman created a hostile workplace violation and if the Legislature’s conduct committee should address the matter. Nearman could also face criminal sanctions, she said.

Nearman didn’t immediately respond to a phone call seeking comment.

First elected in 2014 to a district just west of Salem, Nearman easily kept his seat in the last election with 58% of the vote.

Considered one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, Nearman has served as the vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform and the director of the Freedom Foundation, a group that’s sought to diminish the political power of unions.

Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.

WE GET SALEM THE FACTS. Covering your community with care and depth. Salem Reporter – fair, accurate, independent. Subscribe and support our essential local service.