Brooks rejects leave after days of negotiations, says he will return to Legislature

Just before noon on Monday, five legislative police officers were dispatched to Room 3159 in the Legislative Building.

That is the office belonging to Assemblyman Steven J. Brooks II, who would soon be meeting with Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, whom he is accused of threatening, and Majority Leader William Horne. Two of the police officers, accompanied by Legislative Counsel Bureau Director Rick Combs, went into an anteroom inside Brooks’ office while the others met behind a closed door, theoretically to sign an agreement for Brooks to take a leave of absence.

The other three police officers fanned out in the hallway, positioning themselves at either end. What were they doing there?

“Some of the ladies (secretaries) are nervous,” one cop explained to me.

I’m not surprised. Indeed, the man who had been arrested with 41 rounds of ammunition and who had been behaving erratically before and after his his Jan. 19 arrest and subsequent detention for a mental evaluation had become the focus of the beginning of the 77th session.

Combs would emerge briefly to retrieve a folder – it seemed Brooks might not have remembered to bring his copy of the agreement. A few minutes later, Kirkpatrick came out and asked the media to “give Steven some space," saying she would update us at a news conference.

That update was shocking, even for this story: Brooks had reversed himself and was refusing to take a leave of absence. Kirkpatrick and Horne both said they were against the move, preferring he not be in the building to get well, deal with his issues and other euphemisms.

Here is a simple fact: Speaker Kirkpatrick and the other Democrats, trying to radiate optimism about “Building a Better Nevada” (insipid slogan alert), have continually referred to the Brooks controversy as a mere “distraction.”

That was laughable when they first said it. It is patently untrue now.

About the only good I can see coming out of all of this as it inevitably leads either to another Brooks change of heart or him being ousted from his own caucus or an unprecedented expulsion hearing is that Kirkpatrick and Horne, former rivals for the speakership, seem to have cemented a bond forged in this adversity. He has had her back and took most of the questions at that news conference.

How did we get to the media gaggle inside Horne’s office and that stunning announcement of Brooks’ about-face about 1:15 today?

On Sunday, as I have previously reported, Brooks met with legislative leaders in Carson City and negotiations began for a leave. I am reliably told that Brooks wanted his entire salary and all the financial perks of serving while….not serving. That was rejected.

Brooks also desired an agreement that would allow him to return right away if he wanted to do so, but he seemed to agree this week to a leave of “up to 60 days,” as the Review-Journal first reported. That coincides with the number of days lawmakers are paid, per the Constitution, but leadership insisted he agree not to return to the building from his leave without meeting with them first.

Brooks seemed shaky the first day of the session, with a sunglass-wearing bodyguard trying to shield him from the media – at one point, he gave me a thumbs-up and winked. But he also was affected by the media horde, and later Horne would inform us that he believes the Fourth Estate is “hampering” his decision-making.

Seriously? On the other hand, Brooks was virtually unknown before his arrest, an invisible legislator first elected in 2010 whose mentions in the media during the last fortnight far exceed the number of times his name previously appeared anywhere. And he has been buffeted by phone calls, texts and an aggressive media pack that even staked him out on Day One while he was in the bathroom.

Brooks spent the night in Sparks with his aunt, who told Monday evening couriers from Carson that he could not sign papers, so they left them there. Brooks returned to Carson City earlier today, with leaders fully expecting him to sign.

That led to the late-morning meeting in Brooks' office, which spilled into the early afternoon. I sensed that Kirkpatrick and Horne were frustrated with the media because of Brooks’ skittishness about our presence.

They had only one goal: Get him to go back to Las Vegas, and they probably felt we were jeopardizing that.

I have previously argued that while the story was easy to lampoon early on, it was becoming increasingly scary and sad. It has now become surreal.

It was even clearer during the news conference that Horne and Kirkpatrick wanted Brooks to leave and were unhappy with his reversal. They both said as much and emphasized that he needs to show up to committees and floor sessions.

But my guess is thy don't think the troubled assemblyman will fully participate and that will be used against him when the Horne-led committee begins investigating him later this week. Horne even went so far to say that Brooks is "not the same gentleman I've come to know."

Kirkpatrick said she “absolutely” feels safe, but I doubt that and I am sure others in the building -- and not just "the ladies" -- are quite wary that Brooks, unless he changes his mind again, will be returning.

A distraction? I don’t think so.