2013: A last look back

There were a lot of firsts in 2013.

The Nevada Legislature expelled a member for the first time in the state’s 149-year history. Assemblyman Steven Brooks seemed to validate the Legislature’s emotional, difficult vote on the very day it was taken by getting arrested in California for resisting officers and striking a police dog. He’s been in jail in San Bernardino County ever since.

While you could quibble with how lawmakers went about the first expulsion in state history — they banned a duly-elected lawmaker from entering the legislative building before they imposed any punishment, and refused to release the investigative report that informed their decision to expel Brooks — there was no arguing the Assembly took its job seriously and weighed the consequences and import of the decision.

Another first: Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy, the first and only leader that organization has ever had, announced her retirement. Mulroy is one of the most effective bureaucrats — no disrespect intended by the term — in Las Vegas’ history, and led the water agency at a time of unprecedented growth. She didn’t leave before she started paying the piled-up bills accumulated in the “growth will pay for growth” Ponzi scheme heyday of Las Vegas.

Whom the Clark County Commission chooses to appoint to replace Mulroy — water authority Deputy General Manager John Entsminger or Commissioner Larry Brown, a former authority employee — will say a great deal about the direction in which the valley is headed. Will it be status quo, or have we come to a point where we finally recognize that the recession has changed things forever, and a new course is needed?

The Nevada Legislature — for the first time — took the constitutional amendment of 2000 seriously, and finally approved a bill allowing for medical marijuana dispensaries in the Silver State. Sick patients will someday owe a debt of gratitude primarily to state Sens. Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, and Mark Hutchison, R-Las Vegas, who both devoted plenty of time and energy to getting the measure passed.

Up until now, medical marijuana has been legal, but there’s no way to legally obtain it. If you bought it — even if you had a medical marijuana prescription — you were committing a crime. You could grow your own, if you had the gardening skills, but if you bought the seeds, you were again committing a crime. And this insanity persisted for 13 long years, until lawmakers finally acted. Better late than never, but still an unconscionably long interval.

Another first: Superlobbyist Harvey Whittemore was finally called to account for breaking the law. Whittemore had secretly, and illegally, reimbursed donors who contributed more than $130,000 to Reid. Whittemore, a longtime lawyer, lobbyist and campaign operator, tried to claim he wasn’t aware his actions were unlawful, a laughable defense that fell easily in federal court in Reno. Despite pleas for mercy from Whittemore’s friends in lobbying, law and elsewhere, he was sentenced to two years in prison, a just punishment for a man who’d obviously come to see himself as above the law.

And while it wasn’t a first, it was rare enough to see Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid finally move on changing the Senate’s hidebound filibuster rules. Now, the minority party can no longer obstruct votes on presidential nominees or judicial appointments to courts other than the Supreme Court. Senators, academics and pundits — including me — had been calling on Reid to reform the filibuster process for years, but the senator settled for smaller, less sweeping compromises. But after minority Republicans began filibustering a trio of D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals judges, Reid had finally had enough, and made good on his longtime promise to act.

A slew of important jobs that had been filibustered — some for weeks or months — were quickly filled.

Let’s hope 2014 is as interesting and eventful. Until then.

Note to readers: I’ll be taking some time off for the holidays. My column will return Jan. 7. Until then, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.

Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist, and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at 387-5276 or SSebelius@reviewjournal.com.