By Tom Henderson • Staff Writer • 

Hard-line Republican outpolls moderate foe

Former State Rep. Jim Thompson switched from a Republican to an Independent in hopes of regaining his former District 23 House seat. He pledged a return to bipartisanship and civility in politics, which he said the firebrand incumbent had eschewed.

But voters remained with Rep. Mike Nearman, the hard-liner who wrested the seat from Thompson two years ago in a bitterly fought GOP primary.

In virtually complete returns Wednesday morning, Nearman was leading Thompson 16,869 to 11,992 or 52.76 percent to 37.51, with two minor party candidates claiming the spoils.

Thompson spent election night at his home in Dallas, and released a statement when it was clear he was going down to defeat.

“We are disappointed by the outcome, but the people have spoken,” he said. “No matter how much voters complain about the two-party system in our elections, it is tough to overcome.

I want to thank all the people who stood with me in the race. I am holding my head up high with a race well run. No matter what, this will always be ‘Oregon, My Oregon,’ and I wish her people the best.”

Although Nearman prevailed handily in the end, he said he never took victory for granted.

“I wasn’t sure my victory was all that secure,” he said, speaking from his home in Independence. “A group calling itself the Real Mike Nearman Committee spent a lot of money against me, and that’s what had me worried.”

Members of the committee collected $65,000 from four public employee unions for ads blasting Nearman. Service Employees International Union Local 503 contributed $40,000, and the Oregon Education Association, American Federation of Teachers and the American Council of State, Federal and Municipal Employees added lesser amounts.

“I’m glad public employee unions wasted money trying to get me out, and didn’t have that money to spend on other things,” Nearman said.

Thompson represented the district for two terms before being unseated by Nearman. While Thompson campaigned as a link to a more civilized era in the Legislature, the fiery Nearman positioned himself as a safeguard against Oregon becoming a one-party state.

When state Rep. Lane Shetterly stepped down in 2004 to head the Oregon Land and Conservation and Development Commission, Thompson was chosen by the Republican Party to fill his unexpired term. The Dallas resident was one of five House candidates in the 2004 Republican primary, but lost to Brian Boquist.

When Boquist mmoved to the Oregon Senate in 2008, Thompson won the Republican primary, and later the general election, in House District 23. He was re-elected in 2010 and 2012.

Nearman is a software engineer. Before being elected to the Legislature, he served as chairman of the Polk County Republican Party.

He serves on the board of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, which takes a hard line stance on immigration.

Shortly after joining the Legislature, Nearman got into a tiff with Boquist, whose Senate district encompasses House Districts 23 and 24. Boquist ended up filing a complaint with the Oregon Ethics Commission.

The commission found Nearman had violated Oregon election law by providing incomplete employment information on his Statement of Economic Interest. But he avoided a fine by filing an amended statement.

A Department of Justice investigation into alleged wrongdoing by Nearman’s campaign was closed Nov. 4. Department spokesman Ellen Klem told the Salem Statesman Journal no wrongdoing had been found.

Nearman makes the media a frequent target, particularly the Statesman Journal. He accused the Department of Justice of “colluding” with the newspaper against him.

“I guess that’s what happens to people who stand up to public employee unions and the media,” he said. “Trump’s victory backs me up with what I have been saying about the media rigging the election.”

As for his conflict with Boquist, Nearman said he is exploring the option of challenging his political nemesis for the state Senate when his seat comes up again in 2020.