After reading the May 19 guest opinion [Golly, Ross, and Seil], we at the Rural Engagement Project (www.ruralengagementproject.com) feel compelled to respond to their demand that Rep. Mike Nearman be exonerated from his criminal charges and permitted to continue representing House District 23 in Salem. We believe that Mr. Nearman should resign or be removed.
On Dec. 21, 2020, the Oregon Legislature convened an emergency one-day special session to discuss and pass four bills relating to the economic fallout from the pandemic and coronavirus relief. This was of urgent concern to constituents of HD23 as their purpose was to help struggling small businesses and assist rural communities. In an abundance of caution, the Capitol building was closed, a legal closure upheld by the Oregon Supreme Court’s June 2020 ruling.
Outside of the Capitol, more than 100 protesters gathered to demand the state’s reopening and end to emergency coronavirus restrictions. Some carried firearms and bear spray. Many were not wearing masks. At 8:29 a.m., Nearman was seen on security cameras exiting from the building via a side door not used as public access, allowing — against instruction—both the inner door and outer door to be open at the same time. His actions directly allowed the protesters access to the building, jeopardizing the safety of all those inside the Capitol. The protesters were met by, and then attacked, law enforcement officers. They assaulted reporters and damaged property. Police declared the scene an unlawful assembly. Three people were arrested.
On April 30, 2021, after extensive investigation, the Marion County Sheriffs officially charged Nearman with two criminal counts: official misconduct in the first degree and criminal trespass in the second degree.
Nearman’s actions raise two issues: one legal and one political. Legally, we affirm the rule of law and the principle that no one is above the law. The prior guest opinion argues that Nearman should be exempt—defying common sense and basic American values. Certainly, we believe that everyone, including Nearman, has a right to a fair trial. He deserves to be presumed innocent until proven guilty in a court of law. We uphold the common sense view that the judicial system is the appropriate venue to determine his legal fate.
Nearman’s political fate, however, is a separate issue. For his actions, Nearman has already been stripped of his committee assignments. He is left with no work, essentially sidelined with no legislative influence. All Oregonians, including those of House District 23, deserve representation in Salem. With Nearman still in office, House District 23 doesn’t have any.
Despite claims that this is a political hit job, Nearman’s removal isn’t a partisan issue. Regardless of whether Nearman resigns, is expelled or is recalled, Republican committees in the district will choose his replacement, not Democrats. The political composition of the state legislature will not be altered.
For the sake of the constituents of House District 23, we urge that Representative Nearman be removed from the Oregon State Legislature and a suitable replacement be swiftly appointed.
Kelie McWilliams, Executive Director
Aryeh Frankfurter, Benton County
Larry McCool, Marion County
Danny Jaffer, Polk County
Bernadette Hansen, Yamhill County