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Atkinson Joins List Of Politicians Felled By Corruption In Nevada

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(AP Photo/Cathleen Allison, File)

In this May 22, 2013, file photo, Nevada Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, D-North Las Vegas, listens to debate on the Senate floor at the Legislative Building in Carson City, Nev.

When Kelvin Atkinson resigned this week as state Senate majority leader, he joined a long list of Nevada politicians brought down by scandal.

In a tearful resignation speech on the Senate floor, Atkinson admitted misusing campaign funds, something federal authorities are investigating.

"I’ve let myself and my family down," Atkinson said on Tuesday. "I accept full responsibility for my actions. I can’t express the depth of my remorse. I am truly sorry.

Atkinson is far from the first politician in Nevada to have to leave office because of a scandal.

John L. Smith has been reporting on politics for many years. He said Atkinson joins a "rogues' gallery" of politicians who have been caught doing something illegal.

Not long ago, Las Vegas City Councilman Ricki Barlow left office for the same reason.

And in the early 2000s, four county commissioners were sent to prison in connection with a scandal involving strip club owner Michael Galardi.  

Smith said Atkinson's mistake ranks somewhere in the middle of the pack when it comes to political corruption in the state, depending on how much it ends up he actually took from his campaign fund.

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He believes the problem of corruption is a human one.

"It's human nature," he said, "It's a human nature issue. People are going to forget who brought them to the dance and its the voters that do it and sometimes it takes the FBI to undo it."

Smith said historically Nevada has been a "target-rich environment" for corruption and criminal activity.

Former State Senator Patricia Farley served with Atkinson in the Legislature. She thinks sometimes the office goes to people's heads and they lose track of why they're there.

"I think the majority of the people who are elected it becomes about them," she said, "And it becomes about going to the party, or going to the big event and sitting at the table closest to the front with a well-known individual."

She also thinks the pay level for lawmakers and campaign finance laws in the state are at least partly to blame for Nevada's corruption problems.

She said working as a legislator is a full-time job with a small per-day rate. Farley said besides the four months of the legislative session lawmakers work on interim committees, with constituents, and researching bills they want to introduce at the next session.

Plus, they are always fundraising. 

She believes it is that money that can change a lawmakers' loyalties.

"You're up there working full time... for really rich people, who... invite you to the party...make you feel special but all you're really doing is making them richer because if they're contributing - there's not supposed to be a direct correlation but c'mon - and that's who you're working for then yes that's going to propel you to possibly want to take something for yourself."

The editor of the Nevada Current, Hugh Jackson, agreed with Farley and said the way money works in politics is a bigger problem than one person spending money that isn't his.

He said bills to rein in the payday loan industry or mandate sick leave or increase the minimum wage are difficult to pass, "when you're outnumbered by lobbyists - whatever it is 13 to 1 - up in Carson City, who are all throwing money at legislators during campaign season and they don't want to see those things happen."

While there is a lot to be skeptical about when comes to politics in Nevada, or anywhere really, Smith pointed out there many, many people in office trying to do the right thing for the voters.

"You have a lot of people who are very dedicated to doing the job right, to doing the job fairly, and they do try hard to maintain an ethical standard," he said, "In fairness, they're easy to bash. I've spent plenty of newsprint and ink... bashing them. But the bottom line is a lot of them are very dedicated on both sides of the aisle to their ideals and their philosophies."

Guests

Patricia Farley, former state senator; John L. Smith, contributor, Nevada Public Radio; Hugh Jackson, editor, Nevada Current 

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