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Regional Interests

Expelled Oregon lawmaker Mike Nearman could be among nominees for his old seat

State Rep. Mike Nearman, a Polk County Republican, was captured by surveillance cameras allowing right-win demonstrators to enter the state Capitol on Dec. 21.
State Rep. Mike Nearman, a Polk County Republican, was captured by surveillance cameras allowing right-win demonstrators to enter the state Capitol on Dec. 21.

A bevy of names could be before commissioners in four Oregon counties when they meet next month to appoint a replacement for recently expelled state Rep. Mike Nearman.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nearman might be one of them.

The now-former lawmaker, the first person to be expelled from the Legislature in state history, appeared to make official last week that he would be open to an appointment back to the Legislature. The Northwest Observer, which Nearman has personally associated himself with in the past, reported he has filed a form signaling his willingness to serve.

Nearman did not respond to inquiries about that filing on Friday. Legislative Counsel Dexter Johnson wrote earlier this month that it was “unknown” whether Nearman could be appointed to the seat he once filled.

“The county commissioner appointment process is itself an inherently political process which renders it unlikely, in our view, that these circumstances would actually present themselves,” Johnson wrote.

Whether or not Nearman is nominated as part of a slate of possible appointees when Republican party members consider the matter this week is one question. The former lawmaker serves as vice chair of the Polk County Republicans, according to the group’s Facebook page.

A more pivotal question is whether county commissioners in Polk, Marion, Yamhill and Benton counties — the four counties that House District 23 touches — would see fit to appoint a representative who would have little, if any, political clout in the Capitol. The appointee will serve out the rest of Nearman’s term, which lasts through 2022.

“I would hope that the county commissioners involved in an upcoming appointment will show leadership and moral resolve to do the right thing, considering the message we sent with the expulsion of Rep. Nearman,” House Speaker Tina Kotek, D-Portland, said on Monday, when asked about Nearman’s potential appointment.

One member of the House is hoping to eliminate any question of Nearman coming back to the statehouse via appointment. State Rep. Marty Wilde, D-Eugene, introduced a bill on Monday that would prevent any person who’s been expelled from the Legislature from winning such an appointment.

Wilde said he had “no idea” whether the bill had a future, with less than a week left in a 2021 session and much still to accomplish. Kotek suggested it would be “very difficult” to push the bill this week.

Republican party officials appear to have no shortage of options when it comes to nominees to fill Nearman’s former seat for the remainder of his term. Names floated to potentially take the appointment include Dayton Mayor Beth Wytoski, Dallas Mayor Brian Dalton, and former state lawmaker Jim Thompson. Farmer and businessman Harry Noah told The Oregonian that he was interested in the seat.

The Oregon Republican Party has not answered repeated questions about the nomination process.

But Dalton, the longtime Dallas mayor, told OPB that he’s heard from a lot of people who think he should be the appointee. He’s not interested.

“My hat is not in the ring,” said Dalton. “I’m flattered. I love being the mayor of Dallas.”

Wytoski, the Dayton mayor, confirmed to OPB she’s submitted a form signaling she wants to be considered.

“I had a few colleagues suggest that I pursue the seat,” she said. “It’s something I had considered for a long time, but also at this point I’m not ready to leave my position for the city of Dayton.”

Wytoski said she was still looking into whether she could concurrently hold her volunteer, unpaid role as mayor while simultaneously serving a stint in the House. She said she would not run for election to House District 23 in 2022 if appointed.

Once party officials forward a slate of nominees, county commissioners must meet to hear from candidates and make an appointment by July 12. Votes among the 12 commissioners in that meeting will be weighted according to the number of voters within their county that are constituents of House District 23.

That gives outsized power to Polk County commissioners, who will control approximately 46% of the 52 votes distributed among the counties.

Only one Polk County Commissioner, Craig Pope, responded to an inquiry about whether he would consider voting for Nearman. Pope said it was too early to talk about it.

“We really have no idea who will be on the candidate list and I would not want to predetermine an outcome based on rumors,” he wrote in an email. “Each Commissioner has a weighted vote and I believe will be entitled to place their vote on the candidate they feel will best serve the needs of their constituents.”

Nearman, a four-term lawmaker and one of the Legislature’s most conservative members, was captured on surveillance footage on Dec. 21 allowing far-right demonstrators into the locked state Capitol as lawmakers met in special session. The incursion sparked a clash between police and demonstrators, and created widespread fear among lawmakers and Capitol staff.

Another video that was shot prior to the Dec. 21 incident showed Nearman instructing supporters to text him when they wanted to be allowed into the locked Capitol. That footage emerged June 4, and prompted even Nearman’s closest political allies to call on him to resign. He refused, and was expelled in short order.

Nearman also faces two misdemeanor charges in connection with the Dec. 21 incursion.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting