Before last November, when Brian Nieves was merely a Missouri state representative from Washington, few people in the state Capitol took him very seriously. Yes, he was Republican Party whip, a position with some responsibility to corral votes, but his antics and rhetoric marginalized him even in a House dominated by conservative Republicans.
But last November, Mr. Nieves was elected to the state Senate, representing Franklin, Warren and parts of west St. Louis counties. Since then, his antics have grown exponentially, and they've been very public.
Shortly after the primary election, he was accused, in a police report no less, of locking a Republican consultant who supported one of his opponents in a room, threatening him with a gun and verbally berating and intimidating the young man.
This year, he stood on the floor of the Senate and, in violation of every unwritten rule of decorum that has guided that generally august body for decades, verbally harassed and derided, by name, a lobbyist whom he found distasteful. For good measure, he insulted the Missouri businessmen who fund much of that lobbyist's work.
Mr. Nieves held up aid for the jobless, calling unemployed workers lazy and blaming them for their status in life amid the worst recession in nearly a century. He then tried to take credit for saving their benefits after his fellow Republicans overcame his mad-hatter routine.
He bragged that gun ownership in Franklin County is akin to owning a car. He talked of shooting automatic weapons, of being "hard core" about his willingness to use his Second Amendment rights, as he carries a concealed weapon to his daily work in the Capitol.
Late last month, three of Mr. Nieves' constituents wrote letters to their local newspaper, the Washington Missourian, complaining about an incident that happened in the legislative session. They said that on May 11, Mr. Nieves — stop us when this sounds familiar — closed the door of his office when they came to talk to him about a bill and verbally abused them, screaming and cursing, acting, retired teacher Tom Smith wrote, like a "playground bully."
Mr. Nieves' reaction? He feigned anger over a previous letter to the newspaper Mr. Smith had written criticizing Mr. Nieves for attending a conference put on by the conservative American Legislative Exchange. Mr. Nieves says it was irresponsible for his constituent to mention when his state senator might be out of town, putting his family at risk.
Really? Mr. Nieves spends most of January through May out of town. It's his job. Legislative travel, when paid for by outside sources, also happens to be a matter of public record. And when he's not in session, Mr. Nieves is very loudly bellowing on a local radio station, making it quite clear to anyone who is listening that he's not home.
After being called out by Mr. Smith and others for his boorish behavior, he turned even more boorish, going on his radio show to call his constituent 'subhuman" and "evil," and mentioning that he would do anything in his Second Amendment-protected power to defend his family.
We get it, Mr. Nieves. You have a gun. Many guns. You are willing to use them.
That's what makes his statement in a letter to the Missourian perhaps the most offensive thing he's done yet. In defending his wild antics, Mr. Nieves compared himself to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, the Arizona Democrat shot Jan. 8 at an event in her home district.
Yes, in one breath Mr. Nieves says there's "only one way" to deal with people like Mr. Smith, and then he compares himself to a member of Congress nearly killed by a person with a gun.
Ms. Giffords' shooting sparked, however briefly, a national discussion about the sort of angry, divisive and threatening language that has overtaken our political discourse. Mr. Nieves has proven, sadly, that he's incapable of any amount of reasonable discussion with people who disagree with him.
His irresponsible, vile actions are unworthy of a Missouri state senator.
Maybe it was funny at first.
Nobody's laughing anymore.