As reporters chased a mute, hooded, cane-wielding Assemblyman Steven Brooks from the Legislative Building in Carson City Wednesday – and then resumed the hunt as he got off a plane here in Las Vegas – it became instantly clear that this eventually must end.
Brooks, D-Las Vegas, was arrested and charged with making threats against a fellow Democrat, Assembly Speaker-designate Marilyn Kirkpatrick. He had a .357-caliber Magnum revolver in his car at the time of his arrest.
Since then, he’s given one bizarre, truncated interview and then gone silent.
While Brooks didn’t insist on being allowed to attend budget hearings in Carson City, as is his right as a duly elected member of the Assembly, he did tell the director of the Legislative Counsel Bureau that he’ll be back Feb. 4,to take his seat when the Legislature convenes.
That’s sure to be a spectacle. Will we see Capitol Police officers guarding Kirkpatrick the entire time, whether she’s presiding over the Assembly chamber or having a nosh at Adele’s? Isn’t the 120-day lawmaking process long and stressful enough without everybody who works in the building fearful of a violent incident?
It’s an untenable situation, made all the more so by the fact that it’s unlikely the Assembly could legally refuse to allow Brooks to take his seat. And it’s even more unlikely that lawmakers could muster a constitutional two-thirds vote to expel Brooks based on the evidence presented thus far.
So, what else can be done? Here’s a couple of possibilities:
• Make a deal: The felony case against Brooks is being prosecuted by the attorney general’s office, which could offer a deal: If he resigns, they’ll drop the charges. This might work to the state’s benefit, anyway, given that Brooks apparently never directly threatened Kirkpatrick. (He is alleged to have made ominous comments in front of Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow, who relayed them to state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, who told Kirkpatrick.)
Also, the statute under which Brooks was arrested – NRS 199.300 – prohibits threatening or intimidating a public officer “… with the intent to induce such a person contrary to his or her duty to do, make, omit or delay any act, decision or determination.”
In Brooks’ case, the threat was alleged to have been made in response to Kirkpatrick failing to make him chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. Had Brooks threatened Kirkpatrick directly, and had he said he would hurt her unless she changed her mind about the chairmanship, the statute would apply. Whether it does in these circumstances is an open question, and that’s always a risk.
If a plea deal is reached, prosecutors avoid that risk, and Brooks avoids the perils of a felony conviction, which would cost him his seat anyway.
• Have the party fix it: In other places, the resolution to a problem like this would be easy: Send an emissary to Brooks, somebody he knows and trusts, with a message: The incident has upset a great many people, from the speaker to rank-and-file workers in the Legislative Building. It very likely has destroyed Brooks’ political future, and it’s making the Democratic Party look bad.
So, in exchange for a swift resignation, perhaps for medical reasons, some emolument could be offered – say, a job that would allow him to save face and say he quit to accept a better offer. That carrot would be followed with a stick: Refuse, and the party would choose a quality challenger in the next primary and put all its resources behind that person.
Neither approach is ideal, of course, but they’re both better than allowing the Brooks spectacle to continue unabated for the next four months in Carson City.
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.