One is an anomaly. Three is a pattern. The abrupt resignation of Kelvin Atkinson makes him the third former Democratic state senator to fall from grace in the past two years.
Tuesday, Atkinson rocked the Nevada political world by resigning his state Senate seat and role as majority leader.
“Due to mistakes I have made, I will be vacating my seat immediately,” Atkinson announced on the Senate floor. “Regretfully, it has been discovered that I have used campaign funds for personal use.”
The regretful thing is that Atkinson misused campaign funds — not that federal investigators finally learned about it. Other than that slip, though, Atkinson put the blame squarely where it belongs — on himself.
Atkinson’s resignation doesn’t mean the end of this story. The public, whose trust he violated, deserves to know specifics. How long did this go on? How did it start? How much money did he pocket?
Then there are the questions that could really get dicey for Democrats. Who else was involved? Did that person, most likely a campaign consultant, work for the caucus or any other candidate — Democrat or Republican? What impact on legislation did Atkinson’s misdeeds have?
“We hope this is an exception, but we must get all of the facts and determine how far this corruption goes,” Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, said in a statement.
He’s right, especially because Atkinson’s resignation isn’t an isolated incident for Nevada Senate Democrats. It’s a trend.
Less than two years ago, former Democrat senator Mark Manendo resigned after an investigation found he had harassed numerous female staffers and lobbyists. According to former Democrat state Sen. Shelia Leslie, party leaders knew about Manendo’s behavior for more than a dozen years. Democrat leaders would rebuke him privately, she said, but never made the harassment stop.
His colleagues even took money from him. As candidates, state Sens. Nicole Cannizzaro, D-Las Vegas, and Joyce Woodhouse, D-Henderson, each took thousands from his campaign. Then Senate Majority Leader Aaron Ford even accepted a $5,000 contribution to the caucus from Manendo. Cannizzaro is now majority leader. Woodhouse chairs Senate Finance, the most powerful committee. Ford is attorney general.
Last year, congressional investigators concluded that then-Rep. Ruben Kihuen sexually harassed multiple women. His misdeeds didn’t start in Washington, D.C., however. He harassed lobbyists in Carson City where he, too, was once a member of the Senate Democratic caucus. Those accusations led Kihuen to not seek re-election, although he’s now running for Las Vegas City Council.
Carson City isn’t Washington, D.C., where there are hundreds of Democratic elected officials. Since 2015, there have been just 18 state Senate Democrats. Five have been in the Senate for less than four months. One has passed away. That means 25 percent of the remaining group — 3 in 12 — have left public office in disgrace.
That’s reason enough for an independent, thorough and transparent investigation.
If Senate Democrats won’t clean their own house, voters should do it for them.