According to Assemblyman Steven Brooks, I am “the only man with integrity around here.”
Of course, he said that to me in the Legislative Building, so the bar isn’t exactly out of reach.
I’m not sure how Brooks formed his opinion, and I never got the chance to ask. Although he invited me and two other reporters up to his office Thursday, by the time a media horde had stampeded up two flights of stairs, he’d sequestered himself inside behind the protection of a Legislative Police officer. Brooks, D-North Las Vegas, “changed his mind” about the interview, an aide said.
That was too bad, because I wanted to ask Brooks about two major developments in the saga that began last month when he was arrested on allegations he had threatened Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, and continued with his commitment to a mental health facility.
On Wednesday night, Brooks was expelled from the Assembly Democratic Caucus, the club formed by all elected Democrats in the Legislature’s lower house. Democrats discuss sensitive strategy in caucus meetings and need to be able to speak freely, said Assembly Majority Leader William Horne of Las Vegas. That couldn’t happen with Brooks present, apparently.
“Mr. Brooks was not an appropriate member of our caucus,” Horne said.
On Thursday, Kirkpatrick named a seven-member select committee to look into Brooks. The group — chaired by Horne — will examine “ethical conduct,” attendance record and behavior to determine whether Brooks is fit to serve in the Assembly at all.
“This is a new thing for Nevada,” Horne said.
While the constitution makes the Assembly the judge of the “elections, qualifications and returns” of its members, and it gives lawmakers the authority to punish and even expel members (with a two-thirds vote), that has never happened in state history. As a result, Horne said he’s talking with the Legislative Counsel Bureau’s legal division and looking to hire an independent counsel. “We’re making sure we’re crossing our T’s and dotting our I’s,” he said.
That’s very wise. At least one very famous case on point — Powell v. McCormack in 1969 — held among other things that Congress could not establish qualifications for its members beyond those specified in the U.S. Constitution. That means Nevada can’t establish a new rule for Assembly membership beyond the ones under which Brooks is obviously qualified.
But that doesn’t mean lawmakers are powerless — the committee is clearly looking to establish some basis upon which to pass judgment on Brooks and his conduct, which charitably can be described as bizarre. That discipline doesn’t have to include expulsion, a political death penalty that undoes the results of the 2012 election and would force the Clark County Commission to appoint a replacement in District 17.
“Our goal is not to expel him,” Horne said. “It is a possibility.”
According to Horne, the committee will meet starting the week of Feb. 18. Meetings will be open to the public, with notice provided under the open meeting law (an interesting development, given that the law doesn’t apply to the Legislature in the first place). Brooks will have an opportunity to appear and testify. And, after about a week of hearings, the committee will render its judgment.
Notably, Horne said the committee will avoid the criminal case against Brooks. The fact is, the law under which Brooks was arrested clearly doesn’t apply to his case, if he ever really committed a crime in the first place. So the work of the Assembly committee will be entirely political, not criminal.
On Thursday, Brooks said he would take a few weeks off, but he had already agreed to — and then backed away from — at least one leave of absence proposal since Sunday. With Brooks, it seems, things can change in the time it takes to walk up a flight of stairs.
Steve Sebelius is a Review-Journal political columnist and author of the blog SlashPolitics.com. Follow him on Twitter (@SteveSebelius) or reach him at (702) 387-5276 or firstname.lastname@example.org.