With lights on Brooks, district's worries wait

You don’t have to drive far through Assembly District 17 to get a sense of the place Steven Brooks is supposed to be representing at the Legislature.

In a few short miles much of the potential of the new North Las Vegas and the blight wrought by the recession are on display.

Handsome housing tracts belie a grinding reality: mortgage foreclosures, family homes underwater, and neighborhoods snatched up and turned into rental zones by out-of-state investors.

There is an abandoned housing development with dying palms and piles of tan cinder block behind a sagging cyclone fence. Lonesome storefronts sit empty in handsome shopping centers, and stacks of underoccupied apartments are common.

The district features the exclusive Shadow Creek golf course, where celebrities and swells gambol over manicured hills. It includes the Bluebird Mobile Home Park, where singlewides are subdivided.

To the north, a vast stretch of undeveloped desert the size of some cities quietly awaits the next great boom.

But AD 17 is no ghost town. Like so much of the clobbered valley, it is slowly rising from the canvas like a dazed fighter. There’s plenty to admire here.

Is the area overbuilt, or merely underdeveloped?

Are there too many zoning laws, or too few?

Is this part of North Las Vegas receiving its fair share of tax revenue?

Are its children being well- served in their public schools?

Are its poor and elderly receiving the attention they deserve?

Are its small-business owners getting the relief they require to emerge from the recession’s shadows?

These are some of the questions an elected leader should be asking these days at the Legislature. Instead, residents of AD 17 are represented by an empty seat as Assembly Democrats attempt to determine the fate of the troubled Brooks.

While the press has understandably focused on the politics, parliamentary procedure and the pyrotechnics of the Brooks imbroglio — allegations of a death threat, multiple arrests and a bare-chested Chippendale’s tryout are guaranteed to generate headlines — the challenges of AD 17 and its diverse constituency have been easy to forget.

The dozen or so district residents I spoke with this week were too busy getting through their day to obsess on the Brooks matter. They were more concerned with Valentine’s Day bouquets and the price of produce than with the mental and emotional stability of their assembly representative.

With a couple of exceptions, they didn’t know Steven Brooks from Mel Brooks.

Although the survey was admittedly unscientific, most hadn’t heard of Brooks’ arrests or oddball behavior. (Voters will surely be reminded of every embarrassing moment should he be foolish enough to run for re-election.)

Frankly, that lack of attention isn’t too surprising. Most folks spend so much effort trying to survive their life circumstances that they don’t devote much time to the workings of their government. For many, it’s hard enough to muster the faith to vote for the questionable characters that court them.

Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Assembly Majority Leader William Horne have repeatedly assured skeptics the Brooks issue won’t distract them from their important duties, but it’s clear it already has. We’re still talking about this side issue while the Legislature is in session, and we will be talking about it after the rapidly assembled Brooks committee meets, mulls over the facts and at last makes its call. While no one can reasonably question the ability of Kirkpatrick, Horne and some legislators to multitask, it is lost time that could be better spent addressing issues that affect Nevadans’ tenuous quality of life.

In an interview earlier this week on KNPR’s “State of Nevada,” Horne observed, “I hope that he can recognize that if he’s not in the Legislative Building and being productive and representing the members of Assembly District 17, then he’s not doing his job. And currently, what’s going on in his life is preventing him from doing that.”

In the end, this story shouldn’t be about Steven Brooks, but about the people he was elected to represent.

John L. Smith’s column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. E-mail him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/Smith