A person could quibble over how the Nevada Assembly went about expelling Assemblyman Steven Brooks. But you can’t quibble over the fact that lawmakers did the right thing.
Barring the North Las Vegas Democrat from the Legislative Building, forbidding him from “otherwise acting as a legislator” and keeping the investigative report confidential — even the sections that contain manifestly public information — were certainly questionable.
But voting for the first time in the nearly 150 years of statehood to eject a duly elected state lawmaker? It’s nearly impossible to argue with the decision. And it’s undeniable that the process took a heavy toll on the people involved, especially Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick and Majority Leader William Horne.
Whatever else may be said of the Assembly in the wake of the Brooks affair, it will never be said that its members took the matter lightly. The emotion displayed by lawmakers during the discussion of the vote Thursday was genuine, and so was their anguish.
As it should be: Expelling a lawmaker from office is the undoing of an election, the political equivalent of the death penalty, the most severe punishment that may be imposed upon a person elected to represent others. That fact was voiced by Assemblywoman Dina Neal, D-North Las Vegas, who broke down as she declared she couldn’t justify the ultimate punishment for Brooks. But even Neal agreed that a suspension was warranted.
“I also believe in the power of human recovery,” Neal said in her remarks on the floor.
But in order to harness that power, a person must first want to recover.
And with Brooks, there seemed to be no indication of that.
Immediately after the vote, Brooks gave a series of bizarre, rambling interviews. He told political commentator Jon Ralston that he was going to come to the capital to confront Kirkpatrick and Horne, that he’d seek orders of protection against them, that he’d had thoughts of suicide. And then he said he wanted a book deal, and that he was going to file a $10 million lawsuit against the state.
He told the Review-Journal’s Sean Whaley that the reporter only wanted to “harass a poor old crazy guy just because I’m black.” And then he hung up.
He told the Las Vegas Sun’s Anjeanette Damon that he wasn’t crazy, but that his now-former colleagues were trying to drive him insane, adding that “They are all going to jail. I got all their secrets. If they put one finger on me, they are going to jail for five years.”
He told The Associated Press’ Sandra Chereb that lawmakers tried to kill him and wouldn’t let him testify in his own defense at the Sawyer Building in Las Vegas. (The meeting of the Select Committee on the Assembly was held in the Carson City courthouse for security reasons, and was not teleconferenced to the Las Vegas building. In addition, Brooks’ attorney testified for about an hour in Carson City on Brooks’ behalf.)
Those remarks — not to mention his arrest in possession of a handgun and ammunition after allegedly threatening Kirkpatrick’s life, his involuntary commitment to a mental health treatment facility, a second arrest on charges of domestic violence and resisting a police officer and his attempt to purchase a hunting rifle in Sparks — go a long way toward making the case that Brooks was unfit to serve.
Had Brooks so desired — and been mentally equipped to do so — he could have come to Carson City on Tuesday to testify in his own defense, with an attorney at his side. He failed to do so.
No one outside the Select Committee on the Assembly was privy to the confidential report about Brooks — or the 900 pages of supporting documents — but members referred to its contents during Thursday’s floor session. Committee member and Assemblyman Wes Duncan, R-Las Vegas, said the report showed Brooks had a “propensity for violence.” Horne said he felt less safe as the investigation concluded than he did when it began.
Even if the Assembly didn’t have nearly unlimited powers to discipline and expel its members under the constitution, the case against Brooks would not have been hard to make.
He’s clearly unstable and certainly unable to meaningfully participate in the legislative process. The state — and especially his constituents — were ill-served by allowing him to continue.
While Nevada has had more than its share of eccentric lawmakers, Brooks is something entirely different. An elected official who fills his colleagues and workers in the Legislative Building with fear for their physical safety? An assemblyman who fights with police officers? A public official who can’t speak to a reporter for even a few seconds and make some semblance of sense? This, too, is unprecedented.
Back in 1867, lawmakers didn’t like that one of their colleagues had reportedly called them “sore-eyed, red-haired, baboon-looking” in a letter to the Territorial Enterprise. Expulsion proceedings were begun but never consummated with a vote.
But Brooks did more than break decorum or flame his colleagues in a newspaper. He showed — for the first time in state history — what a person has to do to get expelled from the state Assembly.
His colleagues made the right call. And there’s no quibbling over that.
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.