Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigns, will plead guilty to misappropriation of campaign funds

by Brian Bahouth

Soon to be Speaker of the Assembly Jason Frierson and soon to be Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson at the inauguration of Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak on January 7, 2019 - image - Brian Bahouth, Nevada Capital News

Carson City – Today during the mid-day Senate floor session at the Nevada State Legislature, Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson resigned from his office effective immediately.

Atkinson, through tears, told fellow lawmakers that federal investigators had discovered he had misappropriated campaign funds for personal use and that he would plead guilty to those charges at the appropriate time.  See audio and a transcript of Atkinson’s remarks below.

According to a release by the Democratic Senate Caucus, Las Vegas Democrat Nicole Cannizzaro will be the next Senate Majority Leader, the first woman to hold the position.

In a series of three tweets, Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak expressed disappointment.

I am extremely disappointed in the news that Kelvin Atkinson misappropriated campaign funds for his personal use. This admitted violation of the law goes against the integrity every elected officer in the state of Nevada should uphold. (1/3)

By doing so, he betrayed the trust of the public, and therefore should be held accountable. (2/3)

As governor, I look forward to working with legislative leadership, including Acting Leader Nicole Cannizzaro, to ensure our state government operates with the high standards of transparency and integrity that Nevadans deserve. #nvleg (3/3)

Republicans were quick to respond to Atkinson’s resignation.  Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer and Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler released the following statements regarding Atkinson’s resignation.

“Senator Atkinson has violated the integrity of our elections and broken the trust of the voters and his colleagues,” said James Settelmeyer. “We hope this is an exception, but we must get all of the facts and determine how far this corruption goes. We must preserve the integrity of this institution.”

“The actions of Senate Leader Atkinson are more than troubling,” said Jim Wheeler. “Criminal behavior has no place in our legislature. I applaud the work of our law enforcement and look forward to hearing the final details of this investigation.”

North Las Vegas Democrat Kelvin Atkinson is a long-time fixture at the legislature.  Known for his bow-tie, Atkinson was first elected to the state Assembly in 2002 and represented Nevada District 17 until 2012 when he was elected to the Senate to represent District 4.  An openly gay lawmaker, Atkinson became Senate Majority Leader in 2019, the first African American to hold the office.  Atkinson and his partner became the first same-sex marriage in Nevada on October 9, 2014.

This session Atkinson is primary sponsor of 17 pieces of legislation and co-sponsor of 18 other proposed measures.

The Clark County Commission will decide who will replace Kelvin Atkinson.

Hear audio of Kelvin Atkinson’s resignation of the floor of the Nevada State Senate …

Here is a transcript of Kelvin Atkinson’s remarks.

“As I rise in this body for what will be my final time, it is great sadness I am announcing my resignation from the state Senate and the legislative body.  Due to mistake I have made, I will be vacating my seat immediately. Regretfully, it has been discovered that I have used campaign funds for personal use. Thus I will be taking full responsibility for that, and will be pleading guilty for those actions when the time comes.

While I have worked hard the past 17 years to serve my community and my state, I am proud of the many accomplishments we have achieved in the state legislature in that time.  From protecting basic civil rights, improving our roads, creating jobs, making us the energy capital and improving our schools.

“I want to thank the many genuinely committed public officials that I have been given the honor of serving with.  It has truly been an honor. And I would also like to thank my many loyal and committed supporters over the years.  No doubt, I have let them down and have let you all down. They too today are hurting, and I am responsible for that pain.

“I have let myself and my family down. I accept full responsibility for my actions and cannot express the depth of my remorse.  I am truly sorry.

“In this most difficult of circumstances, I have been treated respectfully by the prosecutors and investigators, and I have no one to blame for this except myself in this situation.

“I do hope to have the opportunity to prove some day, this is not who I am, just something I did wrong.

“One of my friends reminded me the other day that good people can do wrong things but still be good people.  In the coming years, that is exactly what I hope to prove. I just pray that someday I will have the opportunity to contribute to my community once again in a meaningful way.

“As the court’s deposition isn’t final yet,  I will not be commenting on any of the details of this.  Instead, I will be referring all questions and inquiries to my attorney, Mr. Richard Wright.

“In closing, to my family, friends, to my colleagues who put their faith and trust in me, to my constituents and my supporters, I am embarrassed.  I am ashamed, and I’m truly truly sorry. I pray for your forgiveness. Thank you madam president.”