Las Vegas Sun

December 18, 2018

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Gun violence, health scare shape Nevada native’s congressional bid

'Keeping Up with the Candidates'

Miranda Alam/Special to The Sun

Congressional District 4 Democratic candidate Steven Horsford speaks during the Keeping Up with the Candidates panel hosted by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas on Tuesday, May 22, 2018.

'Keeping Up with the Candidates'

Congressional District 4 Democratic candidate Pat Spearman speaks during the Keeping Up with the Candidates panel hosted by NextGen America at Three Square in Las Vegas on Tuesday, May 22, 2018. Launch slideshow »

Pamela Horsford describes her son, a Democrat running for Nevada’s 4th Congressional District, as a problem solver who has been stepping up to help the family since he was a child.

Steven Horsford was the one his younger siblings looked up to. When his father, Gary Shelton, was shot and killed at work by a man who had tried to rob the store his was a cook at, the 19-year-old Horsford left his studies at UNR to come home to help, ultimately getting his mom to pursue drug addiction recovery. His father also struggled with addiction himself.

“It was very hard, because I knew that Steven was hurting when his father was killed,” Pamela Horsford said. “I was not in a position at that time because I hadn’t gone into recovery yet. I hadn’t gone to rehab or anything, so I wasn’t in a position at that time support him in a way that a mother should have supported their son during a time like that. I remember him saying he didn’t want to see me killing myself any longer, and those were some of the little things that made me realize I had to make a change.”

Sitting with his mom at the Westside Bistro in North Las Vegas, a block away from where his father died, the proponent of gun control legislation said his family’s experience with gun violence is one of many. He’s alarmed and frustrated by the lack of preventive action while kids die in school shootings and violence continues in the community.

But, as a teen who’d just lost a parent, he wasn’t thinking of the broader political question. His main concern was that he might also lose his mom, he said.

“It obviously hurt, it hurt a lot,” Horsford said of his father’s death. “While I did not grow up with my father in my life a lot, when I went to his funeral and had to basically bury him knowing that I would not have that opportunity to have him in my life, to have him see me graduate from school or get married or have kids.”

Horsford would go back to UNR the following year when his mom was in recovery and able to care for his siblings. He continued a push for education that would take him 20 years to complete, graduating in 2014. It shouldn’t take a student that long to finish, he said, noting that many face the same hurdles of life, work and the high cost of tuition that he had to deal with.

Horsford said his mom taught him the importance of education by example. Pamela Horsford, who came to the U.S. from Trinidad as a teenager and gave birth to her son when she was 17, didn’t finish her secondary education until after recovering from addiction, he said.

“I have always learned to never give up,” she said. “Resilience, showing him that no matter what you go through, you just pick yourself back up and keep on trucking.”

His college experience is where he learned that he could actually impact policy, Horsford said. He and other campus leaders successfully mobilized to prevent a tuition increase to cement college affordability as one of his priorities.

“It’s definitely where I got my voice, learning that I could make a difference in the process,” he said. “It’s also where I learned that there were other things in the process that I had never known about.”

He interned at the Legislature’s Assembly education committee while in college, learning how lawmakers craft education policy. Horsford would later break barriers as the Nevada’s first African-American Senate Majority Leader in Legislature and the first person of color from Nevada elected to Congress. He served from 2013-15, but lost a reelection attempt in 2014.

In April 2000, when his grandmother died, Pamela Horsford said her son again came to the rescue by traveling out of the country to bury the ashes. Pamela Horsford is in the process of obtaining citizenship and could not leave the U.S. without being barred from reentry.

Pamela said immigration policies under President Obama gave people hope, whereas now they have fear and uncertainty.

Steven Horsford said Congress needs to act on immigration as a whole, not just young people who are living in the country illegally and are impacted by President Donald Trump seeking to end Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. He said increased border security, not just with Mexico but with Canada and at the nation’s ports as well, is needed, but that a $25 billion wall at the southern border won’t solve the immigration problem.

While in office, Horsford had six-way open heart bypass surgery in 2013. His condition was hereditary and he could have taken preventative steps to lessen the effect if he would have been diagnosed earlier, he said. A long scar on his left forearm marks one of three places where doctors took a vein to repair his heart. He takes five medications daily that he’ll likely have to take for the rest of this life, and prescription drug affordability is a major theme of his platform.

“The cost of those medications keep going up,” he said. “For me, I’m blessed, I have the means to pay, but for a lot of people, they can’t afford the increase.”

Horsford said his health insurance was vital, carrying a 20 percent deductible on his surgery. He said he sees healthcare as a right, not a privilege. At the same time, he said, the country needs to protect the health care that veterans and others have right now. Medicaid and Social Security helped his grandmother have a good quality of life in a nursing home after she was paralyzed by a stroke.

“It’s why I’m such a strong proponent for fighting for the health care that we have while we work to address universal health care for all of us,” he said. “Based on what we’re faced with right now, with Donald Trump and the Republicans who control Congress, we’ve got to do everything to protect the health care people have today.”

He returned to his home state after losing his reelection bid in 2014. He and his wife, Sonya, decided at the time that it was time to pursue her career goals, and she became a Columbia University Teachers College professor. They’ve been married 18 years, and the oldest of their three children starts college in the fall on a basketball scholarship. In Nevada, Horsford started Resources+, which provides business consulting services.

He’s running to reclaim the seat he lost to a Republican during another midterm election, when Democratic turnout is historically low. The district is demographically and geographically diverse, encompassing rural and urban areas. Horsford said people are galvanized and motivated right now, under Trump and Republicans in Congress, to turn out.

“The awareness that there’s so much work to be done is pretty much my focus and why I’m running,” he said.

Pamela Horsford has been sober for 26 years. She said her son has always been business-like and focused, wearing a three-piece suit to first grade. She said he is glue of the family, getting his work ethic and cooking skills from his dad and his compassion from her. He’s best at anything on the grill, and his daughter has created her own barbecue sauce, “adding to his cuisine,” Pamela said with a laugh.

“I look at him like, wow, that’s my son,” she said.

His first jobs were in high school, working at Pizza Hut and at a veterinarian’s office after hours cleaning kennels. This taught him that no job was beneath him, he said.

As his mom ate lunch near the bistro’s service counter just 12 days before the primary, people came up repeatedly to shake his hand or greet Pamela. Horsford led the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas from 2001 to 2012, before running for office the first time.

The site in North Las Vegas, where his sister now works, houses nonprofit organizations Nevada Partners and Culinary Academy of Las Vegas. Horsford was part of the push to construct the wing of the building that houses the restaurant, where workers are training to graduate and enter the industry.

“This is part of my legacy,” Horsford said.