NV Senate Majority Leader Atkinson Resigns After Pleading Guilty to Campaign Finance Charges

Mar 5, 2019

The Democratic leader of the Nevada Senate has stepped down amid federal charges for misappropriating campaign funds. 

Update - 4:22 pm, March 5, 2019:

Senate Democrats have unanimously selected Nicole Cannizzaro to serve as the next Senate Majority Leader. Cannizarro is the first woman to hold the title in state history. She also serves as the Chief Deputy District Attorney in Clark County. 

Moments after her election, the Senate Democratic Caucus released this statement on behalf of Senator Cannizzaro:

"I would like to thank my colleagues for the faith they have placed in me to lead them as we move forward," Cannizzaro said. "I am honored by their decision to elect me as their next majority leader. I was deeply troubled to learn of the allegations surrounding Senator Atkinson and the circumstances of his resignation today. His alleged conduct is in no way reflective of the standards we set for our members or the values we share as a caucus. He was right to step down." 

"The trust between the people and their government is a sacred bond and must remain strong. Our caucus will turn the page and move forward. Voters elected us to go to work and fight for them. We fully intend to spend the next 91 days doing just that. This week alone, we will hear bill's that protect Nevadans with pre-existing conditions, ensure equal pay for equal work, and expand access to the ballot Box. We will remain focused on going to work every day to fight for Nevadans."

Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson announced his resignation after the Las Vegas Democrat pleaded guilty to misspending hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign funds for personal use.

His resignation marks the end of a 17-year career in the legislature where he was first elected to the Assembly in 2002 and to the state Senate in 2012. He was the first openly gay member of the Nevada Legislature when he came out in 2013 during a debate in the Senate on same-sex marriage.

"I accept full responsibility for my actions and cannot express the depth of my remorse; I am truly sorry," Atkinson said while speaking for a final time on the floor of the Senate. "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 but myself in this situation. I do hope to have the opportunity to prove someday this is not who I am, just something I did wrong."

He will likely be replaced by his top lieutenant, Assistant Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro of Las Vegas. She would become the first female majority leader in state history.

Republican leaders in the Senate and Assembly released statements regarding the allegations which they refer to as troubling. They also say they are looking forward to the results of a possible investigation looking into the allegations against Atkinson.

STATEMENTS FOLLOWING ATKINSON'S RESIGNATION:

Senate Minority Leader James Settelmeyer:

“Senator Atkinson has violated the integrity of our elections and broken the trust of the voters and his colleagues. 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.”

Assembly Minority Leader Jim Wheeler:

“The actions of Senate Leader Atkinson are more than troubling. 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.”

Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson: 

“I am unfamiliar with the details of his particular circumstances. While I’m disappointed by his actions, he appears to be taking full responsibility, as he should. Our job is to focus on passing meaningful legislation that helps all Nevadans. We cannot be distracted from doing the work that voters elected us to do.” 

Governor Steve Sisolak released the following statement in response to Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson’s pending resignation from the Nevada State Senate:

“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. By doing so, he betrayed the trust of the public, and therefore should be held accountable. 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.”