J. Scott Applewhite / AP
Sunday, Jan. 12, 2014 | 2 a.m.
Steven Horsford goes to work every day knowing that most Americans think he and his colleagues are doing a terrible job.
As a first-term congressman representing the northern Las Vegas Valley and vast swathes of rural Nevada, he knows he’s walked into an institution that’s the brunt of bad jokes about laziness and inaction.
After his first year representing Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, Horsford took account of the year for the Sun: eight bills sponsored, none passed so far.
By that measure, he’s not alone. Most representatives didn’t pass any bills last year, which raises a question: If not to shepherd bills into law, what’s a congressman to do, especially a freshman without institutional clout?
Apart from myriad town halls and events around his district, Horsford’s most concrete accomplishment has been providing what his office claims is $1.5 million worth of documented services to his constituents in the form of helping them win favor in disputes with federal agencies over veterans benefits, Social Security checks or tax payments.
“I’m a defender of my constituents who rely on or who are trying to seek service from their federal government,” he said. “Despite the dysfunction of Congress, we were able to provide that level of return in just one year as a freshman in a new district.”
Elected in 2012 in Nevada’s new CD4, the 40-year-old Democrat from North Las Vegas swapped the power of being the state Senate majority leader in Nevada’s 63-member Legislature for service as a rank-and-file member of the 435-member House of Representatives.
In 2011, he tried to overhaul the state’s tax structure at the Legislature. These days, the two bills he’d like to pass would designate about 12,500 acres of federal land near Yerington for development of a copper mine and establish the Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument on 22,650 acres north of Las Vegas.
Sitting in the office of Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross to discuss the bill late last year, he told the Sun that these are his top two priorities for early this year.
“They’re job-creating bills that help put our public land at maximum use and return an investment to our local community,” he said.
Apart from legislation, he’s led the charge to overhaul the nation’s immigration system, partnered with the Congressional Black Caucus on many issues, advocated for tweaks in President Barack Obama’s health care legislation and led a bipartisan group of Nevada and Arizona legislators who are advocating for an interstate between Las Vegas and Phoenix.
But he’s also looking to his re-election campaign this year.
“I’m a freshman; it’s a seniority-driven process,” he said. “My hope is that with longevity and longer service, I’ll be able to effect more change.”
He could face two Republicans, Niger Innis and Cresent Hardy, who are considering challenging him in this year’s election.
But now he’s back in Washington, D.C., where he’s decided to move his family in the wake of heart surgery he had last summer.
“I did it the old-fashioned way, if you will, and it was part of what people said was missing,” he said. “Members (of Congress) are so disconnected from their families that they’re not figuring out ways to spend time with each other.”
While living in Virginia, his wife, Sonya Horsford, has met the families of other members of Congress, which has given her husband a chance to meet with Democrats and Republicans at informal lunches.
In that anecdote, Horsford casts himself as the anti-Washington politician, the kind of guy who compromises and works together in a governmental body known for acrimony.
Such a story might make for good politics for a public perpetually disgusted with Washington stereotypes, but what Horsford is doing may also be practical. Republicans control the House, and if Horsford wants any of his bills to pass this year, he’s thinking along the right lines in trying to forge relationships with Republicans.