By Blake Neff - 11/18/13 06:00 AM EST
Steven Horsford has traveled a long road to reach the halls of Congress.
The Nevada Democrat’s early life was filled with formidable challenges. His mother, though clean and sober today, struggled with a drug addiction that prevented her from adequately caring for her children.
His father was shot dead in a drug-related incident when the future House member was only 19. Financial woes forced his family to move frequently.
Horsford says this tough upbringing had a profound effect on his worldview — he knows others today who still face the same challenges.
“My experience is not unique,” Horsford told The Hill. “Many people have … [been] raised by a single parent, have a family member who overcomes struggles like addiction, or [have] lost a family member to violence.”
He adds, though, that Congress lacks many people with the same up-close knowledge of life on the edge.
“Unfortunately, here in Congress, there’s not enough people with those real-life experiences,” he said. “I will never forget where I’ve come from … or [what] the people in my community continue to struggle with today.”
Despite his early challenges, Horsford achieved professional success at a young age. Before reaching 30, he became CEO of the Culinary Training Academy, today known as the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. A partnership between business and labor groups, the academy trains thousands of students to take jobs in the hospitality industry, in Las Vegas and elsewhere.
Active in the state Democratic Party from a young age, Horsford entered elected office in 2004, when he successfully ran to replace the retiring Joe Neal, Nevada’s first black state senator.
Nevada’s implementation of term limits in 2010 worked in Horsford’s favor; with so many senators leaving office, he was able to quickly rise up the party’s ranks. He became minority leader in the Nevada Senate in 2008, and when the party won a majority in that fall’s election he became majority leader. He was both the youngest majority leader in Nevada history and the first African American one.
While majority leader, Horsford clashed frequently with Republican governor Jim Gibbons, who issued more vetoes than any governor in Nevada history. However, Horsford was also routinely able to win over Republicans to pass legislation, overriding Gibbons’s vetoes nearly 20 times. Major developments during his tenure included significant budget cuts to cope with falling tax revenue during the recession and a law legalizing domestic partnerships.
Horsford could have run for a final third term in the Nevada senate, but instead chose to seek the brand new House seat created for Nevada following the 2010 Census. Horsford ran unopposed in his own primary, and then defeated Republican Danny Tarkanian by 8 percentage points in the general election.
Just a few months into his term, Horsford suffered a scare when doctors discovered a severe blockage in the arteries around his heart. He received a six-way bypass surgery.
Horsford credits his survival to having health coverage that provided for regular doctor visits, and says the experience has made him a stronger advocate for universal healthcare coverage.
In Congress, Horsford has been an eager supporter of comprehensive immigration reform and was one of the five original sponsors of a House bill similar to the one that passed the Senate last summer. While speaking with The Hill, he described his experience in Washington as “frustrating” due to what he sees as deliberate evasion by Republican leadership on the issue.
He criticized House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) for refusing to consider the Senate’s comprehensive bill while also not bringing forward any of the piecemeal measures Republicans have suggested they’d prefer.
“[If you want multiple bills,] well then, do that, bring something forward,” Horsford said. “But to suggest that nothing can be done is irresponsible, and it is reckless, and it shows no courage on the pressing issues that are facing this country.”
Horsford acknowledged that the battles over ObamaCare’s rollout have stolen the political spotlight, but said it was ridiculous that Congress could not devote its energies to more than one issue.
“It only takes 15 minutes to pass a bill once they decide to bring it for a vote,” he said. “There is bipartisan support for many bills, but right now we have a Speaker who is choosing to only govern based on what a faction of his caucus supports, rather than a majority of the body.”
Despite his frustrations with Republicans on the House floor, Horsford has made a deliberate effort to befriend them outside of Congress, saying he believes one source of gridlock today is that representatives are less fraternal with one another than in the past.
Horsford cited this desire to build better relationships with other members as one reason he decided to move his family to Washington rather than having them stay in Nevada.
“We wanted to do it the old-school way, where families were part of the member experience in Congress. I think part of the reason Congress isn’t working [as] effectively as it should is because members don’t get to know each other and they’re so disconnected from their families.”
He counts Rep. Luke Messer (R-Ind.), president of the House freshman class, as a particular friend. Messer also chose to move his family out to Washington.
“We all befriended each other through our spouses, which has made my interactions with Luke positive. We still don’t agree on a lot of things, but we can agree to disagree.”
Despite the scare of his major heart surgery, Horsford says he hopes to live another 50 years, adding that as long as he feels he is making a contribution and the people of Nevada continue to back him, “I would be honored to continue to serve.”