Elections, Oregon Politics, Politics, Yamhill County

“Not a severe crime…”

“…any rational human would understand this is not a severe crime necessitating the invalidating of the will of the voters.”
— Chris Chenoweth, McMinnville City Councilor

C’mon, Chris Chenoweth — you’re smarter than that. The art of using false equivalencies requires a little nuance: you have to pick contrasting elements that are at least a tiny bit believable.

Picture this: Oregon Speaker of the House Tina Kotek slips out a side door of the Capitol during a locked-down special session when there’s an angry mob of protesters outside. She “accidentally” allows in a dozen armed Antifa rioters who initiate a standoff with the Capitol State Police detail, attacking at least one officer with mace and causing thousands of dollars in damage to the Capitol building. Then she lies about her involvement.

Weeks later, a video surfaces in which Kotek is caught coaching her Antifa acolytes on just how they can text a purely random telephone number that just happens to be Kotek’s own cell number. For good measure, she restates the random number several times.

You’d be outraged, right? Well, maybe not. After all, they took away her speakership, fined her and charged her with a couple misdemeanors. I mean, drunk driving is only a misdemeanor so it’s no big deal, right? Drunk driving, allowing armed rioters into the Capitol, just little misdemeanors. No biggy, huh?

Well, Chris, we, for two, are glad we know how you feel about silly little misdemeanors. We remember Candidate Chenoweth enthusiastically attending a Blue Lives Matter rally during his campaign for McMinnville City Council. But now, Chris, you’re excusing a guy whose actions resulted in bodily injury to several Blue Lives. We’re glad we know you’re flexible on the matter.

And speaking of police, a certain former chief of police — an honorable man who is well-versed in the law and, coincidentally, also a member of the House — explained succinctly why Rep. Mike Nearman should be expelled from the Oregon House of Representatives. “I believe there is little doubt that the recent video showing the conspiring actions of Rep. Nearman on Dec 16, combined with the footage of his actions on Dec 21, that he no longer is qualified to sit as a member of the Oregon House of Representatives,” said Rep. Ron Noble.

You see, Chris, we strongly dislike the cancel-culture of the court of public opinion — we hate it probably as much as you do. But sometimes the evidence is so overwhelming that “alleged” just sounds naïve. Sure, Nearman is entitled to his day in court but you know what he’s not entitled to? Nearman is not entitled to a free ride in the House, not even if he WAS elected in a landslide.

You know why that is, Chris? It’s because Mike Nearman is a criminal. I know, I know: “alleged” criminal. But even a dullard can see that Nearman neatly handed over absolutely everything the Marion County District Attorney needs to secure a solid conviction.

Oh yeah, we forgot: they’re just misdemeanors so they’re not really a big deal. We can’t believe we even have to say it but there are family members whose loved ones were killed by drunk driving misdemeanants. We’re pretty sure they’d take issue with your characterization of a misdemeanor as “not a severe crime,” to quote you directly. But then, we are all entitled to our own opinions.

It’s funny that, as an elected official yourself, you evidently do not see the benefit in holding elected leaders to a higher standard. When you ask where the outrage was during recent riots elsewhere in the state, there was plenty of outrage because there was plenty of outrageous conduct. But here’s the rub, Chris: Mike Nearman is a member of the Oregon House of Representatives, a body somewhat more august than, say, a run-of-the-mill street-level political protest organization. Comparing him to a work-a-day rioter is quite a stretch.

Speaking of stretch, what about that horrible Rep. Brad Witt, you ask? Why isn’t he being punished just as harshly as Nearman? Chris, if there was a gold medal for mental gymnastics, you’d be Chris Comăneci. Witt made a suggestive tweet that resulted in a complaint by Rep. Vikki Breese Iverson. The House Conduct Committee cleared Witt of seeking a quid pro quo arrangement with Breese Iverson in which he would exchange his vote on a bill for a date or sexual favors. But the committee did find Witt violated workplace rules against sexual harassment and creating a hostile work environment. Witt’s deplorable sexual harassment was a tweet, Chris. That tweet didn’t carry weapons, break glass or assault police officers. We believe most people can see a very clear difference between a violent riot and a single ambiguous-but-potentially-vulgar contact-free tweet.

Plus, Chris, Witt’s actions were targeted to one individual, while Nearman’s actions affected the entire Capitol building, lawmakers, legislative staff, support staff and the potential exposure of these workers to COVID — Nearman’s act potentially imperiled the functioning of our state government.

Oh, and then there’s that dang catch-all-blame-all COVID. We know COVID measures sucked, Chris, we hated them, too. But there’s just one thing: ever since we became a First World country, we have relied on credentialed academics, scientists, researchers, physicians and institutes to guide us through emergent situations like health crises. You see, since we do not possess the graduate degrees and years of research experience to intelligently weigh in on microbiological malevolence, we have little sensible choice but to defer to these educated experts when they tell us we must temporarily modify our behaviors to cope with a crisis. Even if we hate those measures and even if we disagree with them for some reason, we must stick with the baseline the experts lay down. This concept is not new.

Further, Chris, we both worked at the Capitol and we know the overwhelming bulk of constituent contact with state elected officials is conducted via email. It’s been true since well before the COVID age. Sure, people visit the Capitol but most of the contact is electronic. We find it ironic that Nearman’s group of angry “patriots” only showed up in force after the Democratic Female Governor closed the building to tourists as a COVID measure. C’mon, Chris. The Capitol is the most wired building in the state — you can’t fart in that building without the I.T. department knowing about it. (How do you think Tootie Smith got her nickname back in 2001 when she was in the House?) Thus, the temporary COVID measure of livestreamed committee meetings and floor votes was perfectly reasonable — even more so considering the electorate’s overwhelming preference for electronic contact with their representatives.

When Gov. Kate Brown shut down the Capitol as a COVID measure, we don’t see how it was much different than Mayor Scott Hill shutting down McMinnville City Hall for the same purpose: keeping everyone safe. Most state Capitol buildings were locked down after September 11, 2001 due to another national crisis. As voting constituents, we were able to contact our representative with concerns, via telephone or, like most everyone else pre-COVID, via that ever-efficient email.

Oh, yeah, one more thing, Chris. We’ve never met Mike Nearman but we hear he’s a nice guy — a prankster who is affable and kind. We hear he is a churchgoing family man, a guy who we might enjoy inviting for a barbecue. But even if Mike Nearman plays Santa Claus at 100 orphanages each Christmas, he’s still an “alleged” criminal. Even with Portland-level tolerance and disdain for accountability, Nearman is unsuitable for a House seat.

Some stuff is just indefensible, Chris. It’s nothing personal, mind you. Punishing a man who committed a potentially lethal criminal act is not “walking on the very edge of fascism,” as you claim.

It’s justice.


EDITORIAL NOTE: Chris Chenoweth’s statement on Rep. Mike Nearman was submitted as testimony on HR3, the resolution to expel Nearman from the Oregon House of Representatives. Such submissions are a matter of public record. It was not submitted or presented to the McMinnville City Council. We regret this error.

Lisa McCracken co-authored this commentary.

Photograph screen capture capitol surveillance