Senator Steven Horsford: Making history
by Kimberly Bailey-Tureaud
In the long history of Nevada, there has been no shortage of African-American contributors to the development and success of the Silver State.
Those determined to leave their mark in days past had to fight against forces like segregation. Their example helped prepare today’s history-makers for an entirely new set of challenges, and state Sen. Steven Horsford exemplifies the fearlessness bequeathed to the new generation.
Having served District 4 in the legislature for eight years — rising to become the state’s first African-American majority leader — the rising Democrat is now running for United States Congress. Should he win that election in November, he will make history again: by becoming the first African-American — indeed, the first person of color — to represent Nevada on Capitol Hill.
“I am not running for office (just) to be a United States congressman … I am running because I want to be the voice for middle-class families and the working poor who live in the Fourth Congressional District,” he said in an exclusive interview with Las Vegas Black Image. “Our government is more polarized than ever; the Republican-controlled Congress is not working with President (Barack) Obama — they are only working on obstruction. That is one of the reasons I decided to run.”
Horsford’s challenges have not been only in the political arena. At the age of 19, he lost his father to gun violence, and was a firsthand witness to his mother’s struggles with addiction and her eventual recovery. While growing up in historic West Las Vegas, he had to assume the role as head of the household and work to care for his younger siblings. “My childhood experience,” he said, “has helped shape my thinking in life as well as how I approach and serve in public office.”
It was while working as an intern in the Nevada Legislature that Horsford was first intrigued by the prospect of elected office. Even in that very junior role, he saw how the political process could change lives. “I realized there were a lot of decisions that were made that had a direct impact on the people,” he said. “The funding for our schools, colleges, universities and health care were all being made by a group of people in elected positions. I saw how the people who shared life experiences like mine make decisions to improve lives for those in need. So I knew I wanted to get involved in public service, and contribute by passing laws that would make the playing field even for everybody.”
Horsford worked as president of the nonprofit Nevada Partners until 2007. He is now the CEO at the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. When asked to name his greatest accomplishment on behalf of African-Americans in Nevada, his response was equally swift and detailed.
“As majority leader — and chairman of the Finance Committee — I was faced with the worst budget crisis in the country,” he said. “I was put in a position to negotiate and reach agreement on passing a balanced budget. Some very difficult decisions had to be made, with the economy spiraling downward. Nonetheless, I am proud that we were able to push back on some of the very onerous cuts to education, health care, services to seniors, the unemployed and children. Preserving these funds helped thousands of people in Nevada — particularly African-Americans.”
“Secondly, we worked very hard to actually expand coverage of the State Children Health Insurance Program (S-CHIP). The governor proposed that a cap should be placed on the S-CHIP program, so we wouldn’t be able to enroll additional children. We challenged that decision; and not only did we expand it, but increased the number of children benefiting from its services. Again, a large percentage of those children were African-American.”
“The third most important area is the passing of legislation for the reopening of F Street in historic West Las Vegas. It was much more about the symbolism of what that project represented, than the opening of the street itself — because of the fact that citizens were not properly informed about a closure that literally cut them off from the new downtown development and services. After being convinced by constituents that something needed to be done, we found a legislative solution and were able to get the reopening of F Street approved. We had to override the governor’s veto to get it done in a bipartisan way.”
It is no secret that Nevada is among the states hardest hit by the economic downturn, suffering from high rates of unemployment and foreclosures. With that in mind, Horsford is insistent that, if elected to Congress, his “first order of business will be jobs. Everywhere I go throughout District 4 — which is a very large district — people are concerned about their jobs. They worry about keeping the job they have and, if they are unemployed, they worry about finding a job. This is the reason we need people who are going to work with President (Barack) Obama to find immediate solutions to get people back to work and make the right choices to diversify our economy, like investing in education and job training.”
Horsford’s other immediate goals as a congressman would be to tackle the housing crisis and help his constituents better understand how their families can benefit from the Affordable Care Act. He would also like to assist small businesses; and, thanks to his long-standing relationship with President Obama, a new program called Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI-funded by the U.S. Department of Treasury) has received federal funding to provide financial assistance for new and existing small business owners.
Married to Dr. Sonya Horsford, the father of three young children is committed to serving his community with a spirit of accessibility and responsiveness. Though he works hard as a lawmaker, Horsford finds balance with his family.
“No matter how my day has been, the best thing is coming home and to have my children greet me with open arms — and particularly when my daughter screams, ‘Daddy’s home!’ My wife, Sonya, completes me,” he said. “We support each other, and she is a leader in her own right and has her doctorate in education. She has also written books on the inequities in education and the need to provide adequate education for all children. The community is very important to me, and I want to thank everyone who has supported me during my childhood, and while I have served in public office. I appreciate and value the support the black community has given me, and I am asking for your continued support and your vote. I cannot do this alone.”