When Steven Horsford ran for state Senate in 2004, the economy was soaring. “I didn’t run for office to cut budgets for kids and for seniors,” Horsford says. But he found himself on the frontlines patching a broken budget anyway. The new legislative season will be even worse: The state faces a $2.7 billion shortfall out of a two-year, $8 billion budget. “The decisions made by this Legislature will define this state for the next generation,” he says. “We’re at that crossroads.”
The 37-year-old legislator—who represents District 4 in the northern part of the Valley—recognizes that state leaders have a rare chance to address “fundamental structural flaws that have existed for decades.”
Chief among them is an overly narrow tax structure and an economy too dependent on a few industries. Horsford’s solutions are well-known: renewable energy, investing in education, gaining more access to land controlled by the feds, and fair and broad-based tax reform.
He says he is “cautiously optimistic” that Gov. Brian Sandoval will present a budget that will protect schools, “because we are not going to be able to grow our economy by cutting education further.” If not, expect that “we’re going to have to have a real debate on how that’s a good thing for Nevada.”
The Las Vegas native studied political science at the University of Nevada, Reno, and is chief executive officer of the Culinary Training Academy. Last summer, his rock-solid image was shaken a bit during a flap over a letter he wrote promising donors dinner if they made a contribution of $25,000. This was not illegal, but the tin-eared gesture, he says, “raised the prospect that you have to make a contribution to get access to people, and that was not my intent.” He returned the contributions.
It was a small-but-deft bit of course-correcting. To fill the potential legislative power vacuum after the exit of longtime moderate Republican stalwart Bill Raggio, we won’t need saints in Carson City, but we will need politicians with integrity and the ability to grow on the job. And as Horsford gears up to face the new Sandoval administration, he knows that government leaders’ squabbling will accomplish little when so much work must be done.
“It’s going to take all of us,” he says. “As individuals, as small-business leaders, as community advocates. If we care about our community, we can’t sit back and watch. People are going to have to engage in a real way.” It’s the talk of a politician, yes, always, but maybe something more. Horsford sounds like a statesman.