Legislative session shows promise as different, a bit dangerous

At last we have a good reason to stay awake during the first month of the Nevada Legislature.

Traditionally, the early days of the state's biennial gathering of citizen lawmakers hold all the drama of a public television pledge drive. Meaningless resolutions are signed. Liberals fantasize about progressive funding formulas, and conservatives dream of lower taxes. Congressional leaders drop by to give speeches that generate hot air and headlines, but not much else.

It's pep rallies and posturing as members of the state Senate and Assembly take turns huddling and hiking. And, in the end, mostly punting.

If tradition holds, after a few weeks the bonfire of the inanities will give way to the grind and the gridlock: compromise, exhaustion and finally resignation.

By sine die, which in Nevada translates into "Wait until next season," our elected officials aren't so much lawmakers as '63 Cubs fans.

But thanks to some Assembly Democrats, the upcoming commencement of the 2013 session promises to be different. That's different, as in unusual. Different, as in a little bit dangerous. Different, as in the sound of an over-wound cuckoo clock as it explodes.

And speaking of different, little-experienced Democratic Assemblyman Steven Brooks has found a different way to distinguish himself as a lightweight legislator. He was arrested Jan. 19 and accused of threatening to harm Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick. He has denied the charge, and never mind the gun found in his car. In a physically and metaphorically revealing interview with the Review-Journal's Benjamin Spillman - the troubled elected official allowed himself to be photographed shirtless - Brooks said rumors about his instability are overblown. But talk about transparency in government.

"If (Kirkpatrick) comes to kill me again, I have an armed guard," Brooks told Spillman. "No one is going to touch me again; I'm safe."

Yeah, no one but the nice man with the butterfly net.

Brooks may be safe, but whether he's sane is a question for professionals to answer.

Not that eccentricity necessarily would disqualify him from distinguishing himself in the Assembly, but that's a discussion for another day.

After he was taken into custody for a psychiatric evaluation Friday following an incident at a family member's home that found Brooks in possession of a sword, the future of his minor political career appeared to be the least of his concerns.

For her part, Kirkpatrick had been willing to downplay his previous behavior. Then again, she's a credible, respected and intelligent presence at the Legislature. You know, all the things Brooks should aspire to be.

The last thing Democrats at the Legislature want to do is give anyone the idea they don't have their game together. Someone might start asking questions about the residency status of freshman Assemblyman Andrew Martin, who hours before Election Day was shown to be living outside his district. He figures to be seated anyway.

Then there's Majority Leader William Horne, whose promising career now includes last week's admission that he has carried his legally concealed weapon into a legislative hearing when he deemed it necessary despite the presence of armed police on site. Hey, if that doesn't foster an open dialogue free from intimidation, I don't know what does.

Will Assembly Democrats in the 2013 session dare to go near any issue involving the Second Amendment? How about the daffy idea of arming teachers or allowing college students to carry weapons on campus?

What do you think, Mr. I-Pack-Heat-at-the-Legislature? How about you, Assemblyman Gun-in-the-Car?

Call it wishful thinking, but I hope someone increases funding for mental health.

Fortunately for the Democrats, Nevadans are a realistic bunch. They don't expect much from their legislators, and they're rarely disappointed.

Not a lot gets done because the part-time Legislature isn't designed to accomplish much. We don't trust government in Nevada; that's why we leave so much of the running of it to powerful private interests.

Unfortunately for those without personal lobbyists, this pre-session mess means Nevada's easily distracted legislators are taking their eyes off the ball even earlier than usual.

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