Rep. Mike Nearman, R-Independence, at his desk on March 30, 2021 (Ron Cooper/Salem Reporter)
The lights went out quickly in an office in the Oregon Legislature.
After a historic Thursday night vote, state Rep, Mike Nearman, R-Independence, was expelled from the Legislature for his role in allowing armed demonstrators who clashed with police into the Oregon Capitol in December.
The 59-1 House vote to remove Nearman from office is the first time the Legislature has removed one of its own members. While there is a process to replace Nearman, the residents of Oregon House District 23 are, for now, suddenly left without representation.
Here’s what that means and here’s what comes next.
How long was Nearman allowed to stick around after the vote?
According to Jessica Knieling, the Legislature’s interim human resources director, Nearman’s final paycheck was processed the day after the vote. Lawmakers make $31,200 annually and receive $151 per diem payment when the Legislature is in session to cover expenses.
Nearman also immediately lost access to his office and his state representative webpage was taken down following the vote.
After surveillance footage was released in January showing Nearman letting demonstrators into the Capitol, which is closed to the public because of the pandemic, House Speaker Tina Kotek restricted his access to the building.
“His inactive badge was returned immediately following the vote,” said Knieling in an email. “He no longer has access to his office.”
What happens to Nearman’s legislative work now that he’s gone?
Oregon House Republicans spokesman Andrew Fromm referred questions about what would happen to any bills or other legislative work left behind by Nearman to the Chief Clerk of the House, the chamber’s chief administrative officer.
“That stuff goes dormant if there is nobody in that position,” Chief Clerk Timothy Sekerak said. “If there is nobody working on those items, they won’t proceed.”
He said that another member of Legislature could take up any bills left behind by Nearman and carry them past the finish line.
But that’s likely a moot point. The Legislature is set to adjourn later this month. Nearman was the chief sponsor of a total of nine bills and resolutions. All of them remain either stuck in committee or were voted down on the floor.
The American Rescue Act signed by President Joe Biden directed $4.6 billion to the state of Oregon. Legislative leaders asked each member of the House to submit $2 million worth of projects from the influx of funds.
Before he was expelled Nearman submitted his $2 million request for a transmission pipeline for the city of Amity. It’s up to the Legislature’s Joint Ways and Mean Committee to incorporate the asks from legislators into the state’s upcoming two-year budget.
According to Knieling, when any member's seat is vacated for any reason, their staff stay on for up to 30 days.
Sekerak said Nearman has one staff member still on duty who can answer constituent questions and help them navigate state agencies. However, the staff member can’t cast votes, he said.
How will Nearman be replaced?
Whenever there’s a vacancy in the Legislature, the party of the outgoing legislator submits a list of three to five replacement candidates. Under state law, the county commissions of those covered by the vacant legislative district pick the replacement from that list.
Aaron Fiedler, spokesman for the Oregon Secretary of State, said that in this case the commissions for Yamhill, Polk, Marion and Benton counties will meet jointly to pick Nearman’s replacement. Nearman’s district includes portions of all four counties.
The Oregon Republican Party did not respond to an email by Monday afternoon asking about Nearman’s replacement.
The affected county commissions have 30 days after the vacancy to pick a replacement. If they can’t settle on one, the pick goes to the governor.
Contact reporter Jake Thomas at 503-575-1251 or [email protected] or @jakethomas2009.
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