CARSON CITY – The Legislative Building has seen its share of spectacles, but typically they come toward the end of sessions.
But even before the Assembly was gaveled to order by Secretary of State Ross Miller on Monday, the Steven Brooks sideshow had taken the place by storm. That was an inevitability, ever since Brooks was arrested Jan. 19 on charges he threatened the life of Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
Questions about Brooks were myriad: Would he actually show up? Would he be watched closely by Legislative Police officers? Would he stage a scene on the floor? In the end, none of that happened. But it wasn’t exactly quiet.
Brooks’ first appearance on the Assembly floor was greeted by tweets and camera flashes. As lawmakers – including Brooks – gathered in the speaker’s office, a gaggle of journalists waited outside the front door, which was guarded by Legislative Police officers.
Brooks dodged the throng by leaving via a side door, but he was followed onto the floor by the reporters. A Legislative Police officer shadowed him.
During a lull in the proceedings, reporters approached Brooks on the floor to ask questions. Was the reported agreement for him to take a brief leave of absence from the Assembly his idea, or that of Kirkpatrick? He directed them to the speaker, saying "It’s her day." He declined to say any more.
As if on cue, Kirkpatrick strode over to the gaggle and started to clear it herself.
"Come on," she told the press. "Everybody wants to have their day." (From the start, Kirkpatrick proved herself as a hands-on speaker!)
The point: The Legislature’s kickoff was bigger than any one person, no matter how much attention he’s garnered and how outlandish the reason.
The Brooks saga totally overshadowed another minor controversy involving Assemblyman Andrew Martin. On the eve of November’s election, District Judge Rob Bare ruled Martin was not a bona fide resident of his district, which made him ineligible to run. But the voters elected him anyway, and under the Constitution, Assembly members are the final judges of the "elections, qualifications and returns" of their members.
And so they did, in an only-in-Nevada way: Martin was appointed to the committee that examines the credentials of prospective Assembly members! And that committee unsurprisingly decided Martin’s residency was good enough; he was accepted as a member without controversy.
There was similarly little tension when Kirkpatrick was formally nominated as speaker, by her one-time rival William Horne. (Speaker-in-waiting Marcus Conklin was defeated in his bid for re-election, which divided the Democratic caucus between Kirkpatrick and Horne. Brooks was among the faction backing Horne.)
But after Horne made the motion for Kirkpatrick and Republican Minority Leader Pat Hickey gave the second, the Assembly unanimously elected Kirkpatrick. (Whatever his problems with Kirkpatrick, Brooks avoided the mistake made by then-Assemblyman Ty Cobb, who voted against Barbara Buckley for speaker in 2009 and was never heard from again.)
Kirkpatrick’s conciliatory opening-day speech made no reference to the Brooks incident beyond a generic call for civility and to avoid the Nevada "tradition" of petty bickering. "Nevadans just don’t care," Kirkpatrick said. "They want solutions."
For his part, Brooks thanked his aunt and God before adding, "Now let’s change the world as we know it in the state of Nevada."
Whether Brooks will be around to do so is an open question. A committee to investigate his fitness to serve will begin its meetings soon, and it will report its findings to the full Assembly. There will be more drama along the way. But that’s nothing new for the Legislative Building.
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 email@example.com.