There have been fiery lawmakers. There have been confrontational lawmakers. There have been incompetent, naughty and downright strange lawmakers.
But in recent history, the Nevada Legislature has not had a member considered by law enforcement to be a threat to public safety. It has not had a member whose behavior made fellow lawmakers fear for their lives.
Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-Las Vegas, has put the Legislative Building on high alert in the aftermath of his Saturday arrest on suspicion of intimidating a public officer by threat of physical violence. Brooks is alleged to have threatened to kill incoming Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas, apparently because she didn’t give him the plum committee chairmanship he wanted. The 40-year-old city of Las Vegas employee was taken into custody following a traffic stop, when officers found he had a gun and ammunition. He was released Sunday on $100,000 bail.
With each passing day, Brooks makes it harder to believe his threats were a misunderstanding. On Monday, he told Review-Journal political columnist Steve Sebelius, “Marilyn wants to kill me,” and “Any person who abuses their power and throws somebody in jail wants to kill me.” He called a Tuesday news conference, then failed to show up. His attorney said the second-term lawmaker was hospitalized.
Yet Brooks was well enough to show up at the Legislative Building on Wednesday, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, accompanied by family members – and a police escort. Brooks told legislative staff he would not resign, that he was finalizing his housing for this year’s session, and that he intends to serve when the Legislature convenes Feb. 4.
“He is not feeling well,” Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs said after the meeting. “He is sick. I am not aware of what his medical conditions are; he just isn’t feeling well and isn’t able to participate in the pre-session hearings. He does plan on being here for the first day of session.”
Pre-session budget hearings, which began Wednesday, are an important part of lawmakers’ duties. And they started under a cloud. “We have a lot of good people, civilians working in the Legislature, who are worried,” Carson City Sheriff Kenny Furlong said.
Lawmakers, especially Ms. Kirkpatrick, have put on brave faces and been remarkably understated in assessing Brooks and how his presence in the Legislative Building might affect their business. They shouldn’t be so reserved.
It’s easy to foresee a session where armed officers accompany both Brooks and Kirkpatrick everywhere they go, including public hearings, meals, private caucus meetings and bedtime. What an expensive sideshow that would be. For lawmakers to adequately serve the public, they can’t be distracted, looking over their shoulder with worry that Brooks might do something terrible.
Brooks, who was endorsed by this newspaper in both 2010 and 2012, clearly is troubled and has serious issues to work through. He should resign his District 17 seat and undergo an extensive medical evaluation, and allow a qualified, appointed replacement to represent his constituents. Democratic leaders should be pressuring Brooks to quit, before he embarrasses the party and the Legislature further.
If he refuses to do so, the Assembly has two options. It could refuse to seat him, because the state constitution gives the Legislature the power to determine the qualifications of its members. Or, with a two-thirds vote, it could expel him.
Brooks enjoys the presumption of innocence on the criminal charge. At this point, however, his innocence or guilt isn’t the most pressing issue. It’s his mental health.
Brooks has 10 days to convince his fellow lawmakers that he is lucid, stable, no threat to anyone and capable of considering matters that will change people’s lives. Going into hiding and showing up for work Feb. 4 won’t cut it.
As one of its first orders of business, the Assembly must be prepared to keep Brooks from serving as a legislator.