The new leader of Nevada Senate Democrats talks about his plans

Steven Horsford

Photo By Dennis Myers

Nevadans tend to be made, not born. Only about one in five of the state’s citizens were actually born here. One of them who was, Clark County Sen. Steven Horsford, has lived a life more reflective of today’s urban Nevada than of the small-town life so many natives knew. His parents moved around the state a lot to stay ahead of the difficulties of life—his mother had a substance abuse problem, he helped raise his siblings after his father was killed in a drug incident. In sharp contrast to that troubled early life, Horsford, 35, is now the new Democratic floor leader of the Nevada Senate and one of the few leading Democrats who did not jump onto Hillary Clinton’s popular Nevada bandwagon, opting instead to chair Barack Obama’s state campaign. He is president and CEO of a union/management job training academy. This week he will function on the floor of the Senate as party leader for the first time.

You are a young, attractive politician who happens to be African American, and you are moving into leadership earlier than people probably expected you to. Does that sound like anyone else you can think of? Is there something about this year that people are taking a look at African American leaders like you and Obama?

Honestly, no, I think it’s just time and—like anything in politics—being in the right place at the right time to step in and serve your community and do what’s right for others and, for me, what’s right for the state of Nevada.

You were elected by all the Democratic senators, most of whom are not African American. Do you think you can avoid being thought of as solely a black leader?

Well, again, I don’t see myself as just a black leader. I see myself as a leader in the state. I have lived here in southern Nevada, I went to college in Reno, I worked in public affairs in mining in Elko. So I have a perspective of the entire state, and that’s not limited to any race or any particular community.

The Nevada Legislature has been marked in recent years by some lawmakers who seem not to even believe in government. There’s been a lot of gridlock, particularly in 2003. You’re now in the leadership. How do you cope with that?

Work in a bipartisan manner to find solutions to the state’s complex problems. I believe in the leadership on both sides of the aisle in both houses. I don’t see one side as having all the answers, and … it’s going to take all of us working together to find solutions and provide results for state government.

But how do you deal with people who don’t believe it’s even the role of government to solve people’s problems that way?

Well, government plays an important role in a couple of things. First, in Nevada, we fund public education. It’s constitutionally required. We’re constitutionally required to balance the budget. Government plays a role in a balanced regulatory oversight of business and industry. I know that there are people who believe in a limited role of government, and I believe in a balanced role of government. I think there are certain things that government should do well. It should be smart. It should be efficient. And there are certain things that government shouldn’t do at all. And because of that philosophy, I think that I will be able to work effectively both across the aisle and in a bipartisan manner to bring results and solutions.