Brooks will be expelled, but opaque process, human toll will be remembered

In the end, or at least near the end, the volatile, scary and sad story of Steven Brooks came to an all-too predictable conclusion.

Late Tuesday evening, when a select committee voted to recommend the troubled assemblyman’s inevitable expulsion, no one was really surprised. No one who cares, that is – a very limited universe judging by those who attended the historic hearing, which was populated almost entirely by media folks.

But despite the limited interest in (or is it simple exhaustion) the tortuous saga, the Brooks story is historic and set a standard for transparency, or lack thereof, and created mostly untold or ignored human drama.

Brooks will be expelled this week – of that there is little doubt. But how we came to this conclusion from that first arrest in January is a story of lawmakers who wanted Brooks ousted but felt compassion for him, of a rush to judgment that seemed to take forever and of an obviously unwell human being not served well by friends and advisers.

This is a political nightmare exacerbated by miscalculations and a human tragedy made worse by a porous, underfunded mental health system.  It seems so unfitting that such an inconsequential figure as Steven Brooks should be the stuff of a history-making consequence and that a star chamber-like, opaque proceeding should be the precedent for future Legislatures to follow.

But here we are.

“This whole process has been uncomfortable from the very beginning,” Assembly Majority leader William Horne told me Wednesday morning. “I think about it all the time….Imagine you are the first African-American majority leader and this is what you will be remembered for.”

Horne, who chaired the imaginatively named Select Committee on the Assembly, said he told his legal advisers who insisted the counsel’s report be kept secret from the public, “I’m going to take a bloodbath. Try to find a way (to release some of the report.)”

But, Horne said, both independent counsel Mark Ferrario and Legislative Counsel Brenda Erdoes advised him to keep private the extensive report on Brooks, some of it obtained through stipulations with agencies and confidentiality covenants. Horne insisted that redacting parts of the reports would have been infeasible and time-consuming, and legally dicey, perhaps, because it was all so intertwined.

Those who have seen the report say that there was not a lot more in there, except for much more detail, than of the well-documented, tragicomic cavalcade of Brooks' behavior that includes two arrests and one mental health evaluation, not to mention many strange text messages to colleagues and journalists. There were, apparently, some even more violent threats in the document toward others, including Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, but that should surprise no one.

What makes this so distressing is that all they really needed is what is in the public domain to expel Brooks. The Constitution makes it clear that the Assembly can do so with whatever cause it chooses – but this now sets a murky historical standard because the document is not public.

This is, ultimately, not just a legal proceeding but an inherently political one. And so the theater needs to be compelling, the evidence even more so, as opposed to an episode of “The Sopranos” where the family decides to get rid of a colleague after a meeting behind closed doors and does not have to tell anyone why.

But this is not the mob; this is the Nevada Legislature, where accountability and transparency should be paramount. Should be. (I still expect the Fourth Estate to try to make the report public, even going to court to do so.)

I could make a snarky comment here about the low expectations I had or how this is par for the Carson course. But I won’t because I do consider this such a serious matter.

I would be remiss, however, in not pointing out that in the sessions I have covered, there have been plenty of potential expulsion candidates, with sexual harassers coddled by leadership, with members being lobbyists and lawmakers at the same time, with legislators eagerly accepting all manner of favors form special interests.

But this story is not about corruption, a bar too low for expulsion in Nevada; it’s about people here being legitimately scared of an unstable person, one who would cause a destabilizing effect on the building should he be allowed to stay. It is that simple, beyond the transparency concerns and the strum und drang that has characterized this unfortunate process.

People are afraid of Steven Brooks, and with good reason. Bizarre behavior mixed with firearms access will do that, not to mention going to the heart of the guns and mental health debate her and across America.

Just try to imagine what Kirkpatrick has gone through these last few months, knowing this guy is out there and may want to harm her. She has had to lead a legislative house and deal with that, too?

That is the human side of this, as is the slow disintegration of Brooks in the public eye. It is tempting to joke about it because it seems so, well, laughable at times. But my capacity to be amused by this is long expired.

I also saw the anguish on the faces of some of those committee members Tuesday evening, some of whom, like Horne, called Brooks a friend, one of whom (Jason Frierson) said he loves his suffering colleague. But Frierson knows what the rest of them know, what all of them know, even Dina Neal who just wanted him suspended: Brooks does not belong in Carson City.

They got – or will get – to the right result. But they didn’t do it the right way.