Is honesty the new currency in politics? As the Nevada Legislature rounds the corner on the final third of the session, I’m beginning to wonder if we’re seeing a new breed of politics — or at least politicians — coming out of Carson City. In a time when politicians are guarded against barbs and personal attacks from the real world as well as the online world, politics is getting pretty personal in our state capital. But in a surprising, and refreshing twist, these politicians — all Democrats — are putting it all on the line to speak from the heart and share personal stories that can inspire as much as ignite firestorms of controversy.
Let’s take a look at some of the brave testimonials we’ve seen from Legislators this month alone:
- He’s here. Get used to it: Take Sen. Kelvin Atkinson (D-Las Vegas), whose simple declarative statement — “I’m black. I’m gay.” — went viral within hours of a late-night April 22 hearing in which the Senate voted to approve Senate Joint Resolution 13 (SJ13), a move to repeal the state ban on same-sex marriage. Now in the Senate, the Chicago native (shout-out to my fellow native Illinoian!) spent the past 10 years in the Assembly. It’s a sad fact reflection on our society that Atkinson waited this long into his political career to be so open about his sexuality. But the flip-side is that it’s a good sign of the progress of our state, and our country, that Atkinson felt he could speak the truth now. He joins fellow openly gay Legislators freshman Sen. Pat Spearman and veteran Nevada politician Sen. David Parks.
- Progressive Christians in the house, or rather, Senate: I’m beginning to think of Sen. Pat Spearman (D-North Las Vegas) as the MVP of this session. The former pastor has traded her job leading worship for a job leading the charge for progressive change in Carson City. Whenever someone wants to give me grief about being a prochoice Christian, I point to Spearman as a shining example that I am not alone. Her testimony at the April 1 Assembly hearing on the comprehensive sex education bill (AB230) was a powerful tribute to the experience and the wisdom she has brought with her to her new job. No doubt if Assemblywoman Lucy Flores’ revelation had not stolen the show, it would have been Spearman’s tear-inducing story of planning last rights for Tessa, the young girl who died of AIDS after having sex one time, would have been the headline for a meeting full of combustible elements. “She made me promise to tell her story, so that no one else had her fate. … My support for this bill is for Tessa. I don’t want to bury another child,” Spearman said at that meeting. But then you blink and she’s moving mountains in hearing after hearing, including that same April 22 hearing in which Atkinson came out. At that hearing Spearman shared stories of living in the South, of a waitress spitting on her hamburger because she came in the front door. “I know what it feels like when people want to push separate, but equal.” Lucky for us, Spearman looks to be a people’s champion for the modern age.
- No shame. No regrets: I think if you look up fierce in the dictionary, there’s a picture of Assemblywoman Lucy Flores (D-North Las Vegas). I covered government meetings and politics for seven years and never once heard a politician speak with the sincerity and conviction I heard from Flores in that April 1 hearing on AB230. She shocked the room — you could hear audible gasps — as Flores tearfully recounted her story of having an abortion at age 16. It’s rare for a politician to speak publicly about having an abortion, even though statistically more have done so than speak about it. (1 in 3 women have an abortion by the onset of menopause.) But this wasn’t just TMI for shock value. Flores offered her experience as a powerful message that there would be less need for abortions if girls and women had access to medically accurate sex education and reproductive health care, including birth control. That would have been enough. But when her office received threats after the testimony, she remained firm in her belief that her decision to have an abortion was the right one for her. No shame. No excuses. Just honesty. And the viral #FierceFlores meme was launched and buoyed by her unflinching dedication to the lives and livelihoods of Nevada’s women and children. (And, incidentally, the #FierceFlores meme brought in wave after wave of support for Flores, above and beyond any negativity she was receiving. Just more proof that our capacity for love is so much stronger than hate.)
After so many big moments, one has to wonder what’s ahead for the last leg of the session. More political battles to come is a given but I’m keeping my eye out for more shows of humanity and heart. We can use more of that around here. It gives me hope for a new day in Nevada.