The first Nevada expulsion attempt: Of harsh words, a newspaper banned and forgery allegations

A lawmaker disparaging his colleagues in a newspaper. The newspaper banned from the Legislative Building. The newspaper accusing a lawmaker of forging a letter to the editor.

All of this and more surrounded Nevada's first attempted expulsion, which came during the first special session in the state's history three years after the Constitution was written and culminated with the lawmaker claiming he was feverish and sent the wrong copy of the offending letter to the newspaper.

If the potential expulsion of Steven Brooks for his behavior is an only in Nevada story, go back to 1867 and you will find an even better one: The attempted expulsion of an assemblyman for publishing, in the expulsion resolution's words,  "certain contemptuous language, disgraceful in itself, false in its representations, reflecting dishonor upon this House, and intended to injure and insult the members thereof; by disgracefil mention of the motives governing them in their official conduct."

The details of the failed expulsion attempt, first discovered by my "Ralston Reports" producer Dana Gentry )who used Google and crack legislative researchers) and then revealed by Las Vegas Sun Political Editor Anjeanette Damon on Twitter, are contained in the journal from a special session in 1867, helpfully provided (along with other great stuff) by ex-Archivist Guy Rocha. The nonpareil Rocha had been asked about expulsions because of the Brooks story, but told me he never thought to look for an attempt in a special session.

(Actually, 10 years ago, during the contentious 2003 session that spawned two specials, veteran capital reporter Ed Vogel, with Rocha's help, wrote about the incident, saying the assemblyman was removed and then permitted to return. But the journal (attached here -- see pp. 312-313, 317, 322-23) does not reflect that he was ever removed as he clearly was voting all the way to the end.)

The special session essentially was needed so the government could pay its bills (sound familiar?), or as the journal tells us because lawmakers in the regular session "adjourned without adopting such amendments to existing laws as will assure the payment of interest on the State debt, and provide the menus for defraying the necessary expenses of the State Government, which will be required before the next regular session of the Legislature."

The expulsion case involved Stoery County Assemblyman A.H. Lissak, who was charged by fellow countyman S.E. Huse, with "disorderly conduct" on March 19, 1867. Why?

The legislative journal: "Lissak did, on the 19th day of March, 1867, falsely write, utter, and cause to be published over his own signature, a communication in a public journal of this State known as the Territoprial Enterprise, wherein is contained certain contemptuous language, disgraceful in itself, false in its repre sentations, reflecting dishonor upon this House, and intended to injure and insult the members thereof; by disgracefil mention of the motives governing them in their official conduct."

The original letter and Lissak's subsequent retraction -- both attached here -- are priceless. His first missive contains some vicious use of language, including the use of the phrase "sore-eyed, red-haired, baboon-looking..." Lissak also writes of one of his Storey County colleagues, "I believe his occupation in Virginia is something like janitor or sweeper of some public room."

The retraction is even better, with this memorable headline: "A Letter Purporting to Come from A.H. Lissak -- A Probable Forgery."

Probable forgery! Indeed, in a brutal editorial (I have attched it here, too) that would make today's writers blush, the Territorial Enterprise accused Lissak of being extorted to apologize. (The newspaper had been banned from the Assembly on the 16th. Don't get any ideas, Gang of 63!)

Lissak's retraction read in part: "It was foreign to my intention to cast odious refelections upon the House of which I have the honour to be a member, or upon the honor and character of any one of its members." There's much more -- it is well worth the read -- and ends by explaining he had revised his original, heated thoughts but "by mistake I sent the original copy." 

Politicians back then had great excuses, too, n-est-ce-pas?

On March 20, Assemblyman George Lammon, also of Storey, introduced the expulsion resolution, which read thusly:

WHEREAS, A. H. Lissak, member elect from Storey County, did on the 19th day of March inst. falsely write, utter and cause to be published over his own signature, in a public journal of this State, known as the “Territorial Enter prise,” wherein is contained certain contemptuous language, disgraceful in itself, false in its representations, reflecting dishonor upon this House, and intended to injure and insult the members thereof by disgraceful mention of the motives governing them in their official condàct; and whereas, the said Lissak, on being arraigned before this body and charged with the above, did in a public manner, standing in his place, acknowledge writing the offensive article, and caused, by representations, certain members of this body to ask for him further time in order that he might make due reparation for the insult given; and whereas, his letter of this morning being indicative of the motives which prompted him false beginning; therefore

Resolved, That the said A. H Lissak be expelled from this body, and his seat is hereby declared vacant; and the Sergeant-at-Arms is instructed to carry into immediate effect the purpose and intent of this resolution.

On March 23, a Saturday, the matter was taken up. Lissak asserted he was "sick with a high fever at the time" he wrote the letter and only "glanced at the contents thereof." 

George Muckton of Ormsby County introduced a new resolution:

Mr. Lissak has publicly retracted everything he has written and caused to be published against the honor and dignity of this Assembly therefore,

Resolved, all proceedings in his case be, and hereby indefinitely postponed.

Lissak's anagonists were not done yet.

Huse recommended the speaker reprimand Lissak. That failed.

Thomas Julien of Humboldt moved that the entire proceedings be expunged from the journal and the matter be killed. That failed.

The Muckton resolutuion was then voted on and adopted by a 20-12 vote.

Right after the vote, a motion was made by Chruchill County's James St. Clair to rescind the banning of the Territorial Enterprise from the building. It failed by one vote, 17-16.

Thus did the Territorial Enterprise not avoid expulsion but A.H. Lissak did dodge his colleagues' wrath, meaning that Brooks' ouster, if it occurs, would be the first in Nevada history.