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Lawmakers reflect on Oregon politics one year after storming of state capitol, Jan. 6 insurrection

Two weeks before the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol, a mob of angry protesters forced their way in to the Oregon Capitol building.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Two weeks before the Jan. 6 insurrection of the U.S. Capitol in Washington D.C. last year, a mob of angry protesters forced their way in to the Oregon Capitol building in Salem.

Because of that day, the state capitol building will have metal detectors installed for the first time ever before the state legislature meets again in February 2022.

Protesters gathered outside the state building Dec. 21, 2020 to protest against COVID-19 restrictions and shutdowns put in place Democratic Gov. Kate Brown. 

Some Oregon political leaders say the anger and bitterness they saw that day has not lessened in the past year.

The state building was closed to the public as lawmakers conducted a one-day special session that day, as right-wing protesters gathered outside. Some outside carried Trump flags, others broke windows and at least one person set off blue smoke.  

The group eventually got partway into the building after Republican lawmaker Mike Nearman opened a locked door for them. They were later shoved out by state police. 

Several months later, Nearman became the first lawmaker in state history to be expelled by a vote of Democrats and Republicans in the Oregon House. 

Democratic House leader Barbara Smith Warner vividly remembers the attack in Salem.

“Looking out my office window and seeing groups of angry shouting people, holding on to — it looked like ramrods. And they were ramming against these glass doors of the capitol just trying to get in. And it was both scary and very sad,” she said.

Since then, she believes the anger the protesters demonstrated has not died down.

"It feels like the big lie just continues to grow," she said, referring to false claims that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. 

Senate President Peter Courtney, also a Democrat, said the storming of the Capitol in Salem as well as the U.S. Capitol revealed the seething anger felt by many and agrees, one year later, that it has not gone away. 

"It’s just as bad. I don’t think anything’s simmered down at all ... I think that in some ways has gotten worse," Courtney said.

He said the state capitol building will have four different sites for metal detectors.

"I feel bad about it — very bad — because I loved the fact that Oregon probably had the last open capitol in the nation. So now here we go,” Courtney said. 

KGW reached out to Republican state leaders to get their feelings about the political climate in Oregon since the events on Dec. 21 in Salem and Jan. 6 in Washington D.C., but none who we contacted were available.

Political science professor Jim Moore from Pacific University said people should expect more confrontations in Oregon politics.

“That's kind of become the new norm in the way that politics is working. Basically people who otherwise would have said, 'I don't have faith in politics so I’m just going to ignore it' are now saying, 'I don't have faith in politics. I think the politicians are out to get me and I’m going to go to their meetings and confront them. So that's kind of what we're seeing at all levels,” he said.

Have a comment or story idea for Pat Dooris? Email him at pdooris@kgw.com

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