Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun
Tuesday, Feb. 5, 2013 | 2 a.m.
Here’s a truism of life, and maybe it’ll apply to politics: It’s harder to throw your rival under the bus when you’ve seen their cute kids, their significant other, their mother or their grandmother.
So the Assembly and Senate floors on Monday were filled with families and the gurgling laughter, sometime screeching, of little ones.
The opening day of the 77th Legislative Session was pomp and circumstance.
Family members pulled out iPhones to record a loved one’s first vote from the Assembly Floor. Flowers adorned desks.
But then there was the quiet battle ensuing to avoid a spectacle over the arrival in Carson City of Assemblyman Steven Brooks — recently released from a psychiatric facility and accused of threatening Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick.
Swarms of television cameras followed his every move — even tracking him to the men’s room.
But more on that circus in a minute.
The first day is when everyone is supposed to be happy, when lawmakers make the case for believing in the goodness of Nevadans — that they can make a difference, working together but still holding to their principles. They could find — as they have vowed to do — that mix of bold ideas and compromise of the possible to move Nevada forward and out of these greatly troubled times.
Somewhere, you could imagine, Paul Harvey is composing a speech about the ninth day, when God made Nevada lawmakers.
Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, was elected by his colleagues to head the state Senate. He will be the first Hispanic caucus leader.
Denis gave a touching speech about his father, who worked as a waiter at the old Sands Hotel and passed away in June. Denis wore his father’s shoes — soles cracked on the bottom — to the Nevada Legislature.
“I can’t fill his shoes, but I will live my life in a way that honors him,” Denis said. “I will always strive to make things better.”
“They gave up a lot,” Denis said from the floor, crying. “It’s not so different than immigrants who came before, or immigrants who came after. I’m grateful for their sacrifice.”
Republican Minority Leader Senator Michael Roberson, R-Las Vegas, praised Denis as a “fine man and a good friend.”
Roberson, two years ago the fire-breathing conservative, continued to embrace his new approach as bipartisan leader.
“Nevadans made clear they want statesmen in Carson City, not politicians,” he said. “Let us be different than Washington, D.C. Let us give Nevadans a reason to be less cynical about their government.”
Over in the Assembly, the bipartisanship continued. Republican lawmakers sang genuine praise for Kirkpatrick, the newly elected Democratic speaker.
“Our speaker is attempting to set a refreshing new tone of putting policy before politics,” Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey said, calling Kirkpatrick a “most unique” speaker. “If that’s what the new sheriff around here wants, a lot of us are going to sign up.”
In a nice touch to remind lawmakers that there are those in Nevada who struggle to take care of themselves, Denis invited The Note-Ables, a Northern Nevada band of 10 people with disabilities, to sing some of the opening songs in the Senate, including the opening of “Home Means Nevada.”
Michelle Enrick, 40, a member of the group, said she wasn’t nervous. The group had a bigger show at the Atlantis, for their fundraiser, this weekend. But asked about the Legislature’s opening day, Enrick cut to the quick — the drama surrounding Brooks, an indication of how much his saga has taken over the process.
“That one guy over there,” she said, motioning across the legislative hallway, toward the Assembly. “It’s his first day to come back.”
Indeed, she was talking about Brooks. All the cameras were focused on him, though he had little new to say.
“There’s the speaker; why don’t you go take her picture?” he told a Sun reporter.
When it came time for him to introduce his family members, he praised both God and Kirkpatrick.
"All praise be to God to be here today," he said. "Thank you, Madam Speaker, and congratulations. You are going to serve us well."
But as much as legislative leaders tried to diffuse the drama surrounding Brooks — Kirkpatrick herself twice came to Brooks' aid, shooing away reporters — his presence dominated the attention of both fellow lawmakers and the press.
Late Monday, leaders were still negotiating the terms for Brooks to take a medical leave of absence during the start of session. Kirkpatrick said they will still move ahead with a special committee to investigate whether he is fit to serve.
By comparison to the lower house, the Senate chamber was filled with a mellow level of comity and good cheer on the first day. Lt. Gov. Brian Krolicki, who presides over the Senate, commented on the cuteness of the Sen. Ben Kieckhefer clan — his wife, April, and two sets of twins, 2 and 6 years old, around him.
Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, had family members come in from Dallas.
Sen. Justin Jones’ toddler, Liam, was removed from the Senate Floor at one point (by his mother) for a bout of fussiness. Later, Liam grabbed for his dad’s microphone during introductions.
In a display of the freshman Las Vegas Democrat’s potential diplomatic skills, Jones mollified his son by giving him the microphone for a few seconds.
Jones later tweeted: “Liam teaches me patience, which I'll need up here!”
But 2-year-olds grow up. Partisan differences, and the battles over taxes that have seemed to consume the state’s political process for the past 10 years, seem to remain.
Kirkpatrick hinted at the tough battles that will dominate the next 119 days in her opening speech.
“For too long the answer to education has been to cut,” she said. “I am here today to say we can no longer cut. We can no longer ask our teachers, students and parents to do more with less, then ask them why are we getting the same results.”
It’s a battle her predecessors — Speakers Barbara Buckley and John Oceguera — have waged and lost in recent sessions. Kirkpatrick is picking up the mantle — and vowing to do it differently.
“The buck really stops with us,” she said. “Let’s begin to make some real investments in our schools, reform our tax structure and rebuild our economy.”