If only Steven Brooks’ mental health would heal as quickly as his relationships with fellow politicians.
In the span of a week, Mr. Brooks, a Democratic assemblyman from Las Vegas, was arrested on allegations of threatening the life of a colleague; made a spectacle of himself in Carson City as lawmakers were tending to their first business of the legislative session; gave bizarre interviews to a pair of Review-Journal journalists, including one in which he posed for a photo with his shirt off; and was detained by police for a psychiatric evaluation after wielding a sword at his grandmother’s house.
And the political establishment’s current response is placation and public calls for sympathy and privacy.
Two of Mr. Brooks’ allies, Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow and state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, now dispute that they ever indicated the assemblyman threatened incoming Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, D-North Las Vegas. On Monday, Las Vegas City Councilman Bob Coffin suggested the city, which employs Mr. Brooks full-time when he isn’t serving in Carson City, reinstate his pay despite his arrest because of his mental illness. On Tuesday, the Assembly Democratic Caucus issued a statement: “Steven Brooks is a member of the Nevada Assembly. While the situation … is fluid and we will respect his needs for privacy and care, the work of the Assembly will go on whether or not he is able to join us at the start of the session.”
Also on Tuesday, during a segment on KNPR radio’s “State of Nevada” program, host Dave Becker and local journalists Jon Ralston and Kristy Totten suggested news coverage of the story was becoming insensitive and sensational – particularly the coverage by this newspaper.
It is possible to display great sympathy for Mr. Brooks’ struggles and demand great accountability at the same time. And everyone, from lawmakers to the public to some members of the media, needs to remember the most important detail of this strange story: Mr. Brooks is an elected official who is expected to competently represent thousands of Southern Nevadans during the 2013 Legislature, which officially convenes Monday. And no one – fellow lawmakers, staff, lobbyists and journalists – wants to be near him.
As long as Mr. Brooks insists on keeping his position and serving, when his mental health is so obviously limiting his ability to function normally, he has no expectation of privacy. He is not a private citizen. He is a public official.
The suggestion that the Legislature can go about “business as usual” if Mr. Brooks shows up in Carson City on Monday, as the Assembly Democratic Caucus suggested, is preposterous. He will be a distraction like no other, commanding the attention of Capitol Police every moment of every day.
And because Mr. Brooks is supposed to be on unpaid leave from the city while he serves as a legislator, there is no reason to reinstate his pay.
As to the criticism of this newspaper’s coverage of Mr. Brooks’ downward spiral, we’ll say it one more time for clarity: He is an elected official who faces a criminal charge. When Mr. Brooks posed for a photograph last week with his shirt off, he did so with his attorney present, ostensibly to show off injuries he suffered at the hands of police. He was not alone. He had an advocate. And the resulting story was extraordinarily fair. Sensational? Insensitive? Please.
All these issues and concerns can be resolved if Mr. Brooks honors the trust the public has placed in him by resigning. His constituents will not have a voice in Carson City if their voice is Steven Brooks.
Please, Mr. Brooks, make this story go away.