Tuesday, January 22, 2013

First Thoughts on Steven Brooks Affair

With only two weeks to go until the Nevada Legislature returns to session, there's been plenty of talk about the coming agenda in Carson City. Was anyone expecting this? Really, what happened here?

Steven Brooks, the Democratic assemblyman arrested for threatening the Democratic leader, said he plans to come to Carson City this week, setting up a potentially tense situation as the Legislature prepares to review the state’s budget Tuesday night.

“I’m innocent,” Brooks told Las Vegas journalist Jon Ralston. [...]

Brooks, 40, told Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, that Kirkpatrick’s “first day as speaker would be her last,” according to a source speaking on the condition of anonymity. Police arrested Brooks without incident Saturday one count of intimidating a public officer by threat of physical violence. A source said he was found with a loaded gun. Atkinson did not respond to requests for comment. [...]

Caucus members and staff declined to comment on Monday, describing the situation as tense and fluid. Brooks had been unhappy he was not named chairman of the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. One lawmaker confirmed that Brooks had been trying to gather votes about two to three weeks ago to replace Kirkpatrick.

I'm shocked. I perhaps shouldn't be, yet I still am. Either Steven Brooks actually threatened the life of Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, or this is the most bizarre misunderstanding we've ever witnessed.

Legislature police are now on alert in Carson City. Obviously, they want to prevent any violent incident there this week. And Brooks is set to arrive there today for a press conference... Then attend hearings.

So how did it come to this? Here's what Jon Ralston has so far.

I have confirmed that state Sen. Kelvin Atkinson informed Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick of the threat from Brooks, who had been telling people that Kirkpatrick's "first day as speaker would be her last." [...]

I am also told by several sources that Brooks' behavior had been described as bizarre and irrational by several people who interacted with him during the last few weeks. "The situation has been escalating for the last 30 or 40 days," one of his colleagues told me.

The story gets even more bizarre, too, I am told: After the police were contacted, Brooks himself called the cops and told them gang members were after him. The police did not find him at home but apprehended him at a traffic stop.

As I write below, Brooks had been looking for votes (unsuccessfully) to depose Kirkpatrick on the first day of the session two weeks from Monday and thus get appointed to the chairmanship of Ways and Means he so coveted. But whether that escalated to a physical threat, as Atkinson apparently believed could occur, will be interesting to watch. But having a loaded gun in his possession along with the number of people who knew of his animus toward the speaker will not help Brooks.

One more ironic note: This arrest came several hours after an NRA-training session for lawmakers in Las Vegas. Brooks did not attend.

Indeed, Steven Brooks was not sighted at the NRA lobby day in Las Vegas.

This incident raises many questions. Did Brooks indeed do this? Does he have a history of mental health problems? And what was he doing with a fully loaded gun?

This comes back to what gun safety advocates have been trying to explain all along. While we don't want to jump to conclusions on Brooks' case, what we've heard so far illustrates the danger of both the lack of access to mental health care and the startling access to weapons.

Sadly, this isn't a completely isolated incident. Across the country, we've seen quite a few startling incidents as of late. We've seen guns in schools, loaded guns in shopping malls, and even casually doled out threats of violence against Members of Congress. And we're supposed to believe we don't have a gun safety problem?

To be fair, just new gun safety laws won't solve everything. We need a comprehensive approach. We need better mental health care. And we must rethink the violent nature of our present culture. When did it become OK to make all these death threats? A democracy can't function like this.

Perhaps Speaker Kirkpatrick and other legislators will keep all of this in mind as they return to business in Carson City.

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