Politicians landing in jail isn’t exactly a new thing in Las Vegas, but today’s reports that Assemblyman Steven Brooks, D-North Las Vegas was jailed in that city after allegedly threatening the life of Democratic Assembly Speaker-designate Marilyn Kirkpatrick is bizarre, even by our standards. (Here’s Ralston Reports, the Review-Journal and the Las Vegas Sun accounts of the incident.)
Threatening state officials with physical violence is a Category C felony under NRS 199.300. And Brooks had a loaded gun in his automobile, according to one source with knowledge of the matter.
Brooks was apparently unhappy that he was not made chairman of the Assembly Ways & Means Committee, a key panel that determines how state money is spent. Kirkpatrick appointed former state senator-turned-Assemblywoman Maggie Carlton chairwoman of that committee, and Majority Leader William Horne vice-chairman, although Brooks still had a seat on the panel. Brooks apparently was part of a faction of Assembly Democrats that supported Horne for speaker over Kirkpatrick.
The question now becomes, what’s next? There is no way politically that Brooks — a city of Las Vegas management analyst — can retain his seat in light of the allegations. (This is not to prejudge his legal guilt; authorities must still prove a case against him in court to make the felony charge stick. But the political case doesn’t require that burden of proof.)
One source said efforts are underway today to persuade the still-jailed Brooks to resign. If he refuses to quit, the full Assembly may expel him after it convenes Feb. 4, which would require a two-thirds vote of all members under Article 4, Section 6 of the state constitution. The decision is final and cannot be appealed the courts under the separation of powers doctrine found in Article 3, Section 1 of the constitution.
UPDATE: The Assembly Democratic caucus released a short statement about the Brooks arrest. It reads:
Las Vegas- It has been reported that yesterday afternoon Assemblyman Steven Brooks was arrested in North Las Vegas on the charge of intimidating a public officer with physical force.
Executive Director of the Assembly Democratic Caucus Brendan Summers said this morning, “We understand an investigation is currently ongoing and we have no further comment at this time.”
UPDATE: A question has arisen over whether Brooks would have to be expelled or if the Assembly could simply decline to seat him once it convenes in Carson City at noon on Feb. 4. Again, I turn to the state constitution for the answer: In Article 4, Section 3, we learn that the term of office “shall be two years from the day next after their election.”
That means that, as election day was Nov. 6, Brooks was officially elected to his current, two-year term on Nov. 7. That means he’s currently a full-fledged member of the Assembly, unless a challenge to the legitimacy of his election could be brought before the body. Since Brooks’s election is not in doubt, but rather his ability to continue in office politically, having been arrested and charged with a serious crime, the alleged victim of which is a fellow lawmaker, a challenge does not seem to properly lie.
However, the constitution does (again, in Article 4, Section 6) give the Assembly and Senate the power “…to judge of the qualifications, elections and returns of its own members.” If in the view of the Assembly (acting, presumably, as a committee of the whole, or upon a recommendation of a legislative committee, in this case perhaps the Legislative Operations and Elections Committee) determined that the “qualifications” of members exclude those who allegedly threaten physical violence against another member, it’s entirely possible the Legislature could choose not to seat Brooks in Carson City notwithstanding his uncontested election. That decision is likely unreviewable by higher courts, again because of the separation of powers doctrine. This would be an action akin to expulsion, but may not require the two-thirds majority required for a formal expulsion.