On the Record: The policy positions of congressional candidate Steven Horsford
It happens like clockwork.
Candidates announce their bids for office. Then the attack ads follow in short order, unabashedly targeting their voting records and more.
We’re here to help. The Nevada Independent already produces fact-checks for political advertisements and off-the-cuff remarks, but we also want to get ahead of the campaign game.
When politicians announce their candidacy for public office, we’ll roll out “On the Record” — our look at their voting history and stances on a broad array of subjects.
Now up: Democratic former Rep. Steven Horsford, who announced a bid for the 4th Congressional District seat in January, following news that incumbent Democratic Rep. Ruben Kihuen will not run for re-election. Issues are in alphabetical order.
Horsford describes himself as pro-choice, but he didn’t commit to opposing the Hyde Amendment, a provision renewed annually in the budget process that prevents federal funds from paying for abortions. Repealing the Hyde Amendment is a rallying cry for some more liberal candidates; after being accepted for decades, Hillary Clinton brought it back to the spotlight in the 2016 campaign by calling for a repeal.
“I support a woman’s right to choose. That’s a decision that every woman should have the right and her own way to decide how she makes those decisions for her body and I will always fight to protect a woman’s right to choose,” he said in an interview.
Horsford also railed against Republican attempts to defund Planned Parenthood.
“This is an agency that provides health care not just to women. They provide birth control, they provide information around planning, family planning, including abstinence. So I think efforts to weaken or underfund or defund Planned Parenthood is wrong and we have to fight against it. And we have to keep their funding in place,” he said.
“As we stand today, we have to fight to protect Roe v. Wade,” he added, referring to the 1973 Supreme Court decision that enshrined a right to have an abortion. “They are constantly making proposals and putting provisions in even the budget bills to take away a woman’s right to choose and/or to deny her access to health-care options. And that’s wrong and I will fight it and oppose it every step of the way.”
Horsford was endorsed by the Planned Parenthood Action Fund in his unsuccessful 2014 re-election bid.
When he was Senate majority leader in 2011, Horsford was outspoken against Gov. Brian Sandoval’s proposed cuts to higher education and tuition increases, which took place during the economic downturn. Before that, he pushed back against then-Gov. Jim Gibbons’ proposal to cut higher education by 36 percent, and the 2009 Legislature approved more state funding than Gibbons recommended.
In an interview, he stopped short of supporting a free college proposal championed by Sen. Bernie Sanders (“I don’t think that’s the answer,” he said), but he argued for action on college affordability.
“I think this goes to the follow the money issue and the number of private, for-profit institutions that have been created and how they have taken advantage of people who are trying to pursue their education,” he said.
Horsford noted that it took him 20 years to earn his degree — he didn’t graduate from the University of Nevada, Reno until December 2014.
“I am the first in my family to go to college, and throughout my attempt to earn my degree, life happened and I couldn’t afford at times to pay for the cost of tuition or room and board,” he said. “So this is real, and when you hear the costs of 20, 30, 40, 50 thousand a year in tuition and the loans that people take out — they can’t even start their life once they graduate because they’re in debt. Don’t think about starting your family or buying your first home because you’ve got to think about paying $500, $600 dollars a month in student loan fees.”
He said his first step would be to hold congressional hearings in which chancellors and college presidents explain why tuition has risen so precipitously.
He also put some of the blame on states, pointing to the battle he had over Nevada’s tuition rates.
“I know that in Nevada we had a governor that wanted to cut the higher ed budget and increase tuition and put that burden on families and students going to school,” he said. “I fought that every step of the way because I knew if we went down that road, yes you should make modest adjustments to tuition based on cost of living adjustments and things like that, but not because the state fails to do its obligation, particularly for public education.”
Horsford would not commit to a Medicare for All proposal backed by at least one candidate in the 4th Congressional District race.
“I’m a supporter of the need to provide health care for all Americans. There are many policies and approaches that will accomplish that. Medicare for All is a viable proposal but it does have its shortcomings,” he said, pointing out that it would “sunset” the Veterans Administration health insurance program, which is a big concern since the district has several military bases and lots of veterans.
“I’m not one who’s going to come out and say I’m for or against," he said about Medicare for All. "I’m for health care for all of us and I will work, as I did, as a member of Congress to make sure we are providing health care for all of us."
Horsford was a co-sponsor of a bill in 2013 that would have ushered in comprehensive immigration reform. It passed the Senate but was never brought up for a vote in the House even though supporters say it could have passed; then-Speaker John Boehner has since described not solving immigration as his second-biggest regret.
He says he’s “100 percent supportive” of the DREAM Act.
“The fact that we’re even talking about just giving, or codifying the DACA policy into law — that’s the least we should be doing, and that’s not going to fix the problem that we still have for more than 10 million individuals who are not documented and are in a system that is still broken,” he said.
His immigration views are influenced by his personal story. His mother came to the U.S. from Trinidad and Tobago as a teenager with Horsford’s grandmother, who sought a job as a housekeeper.
His grandmother had a stroke when Horsford was 9 weeks old and his own mother was still a teenager. She became paralyzed on the left side of her body and, because she couldn’t take care of herself, became undocumented, along with Horsford’s mother.
“I grew up at times not understanding what my mom meant when she said she couldn’t leave the United States or she wouldn’t be able to come back — that didn’t make sense to me,” he said. “But it’s happened in a lot of families.”
As for parents of DREAMers, who would have been protected from deportation had Obama’s DAPA program survived, “I think that there should be penalties. They’ll have to ensure that they’ve paid their taxes and arrears and that they’re placed in their quote-unquote line so they can earn a path, an opportunity for a path to citizenship.”
He opposes a border wall: “They want to waste $25 billion on a wall,” said Horsford, a former member of the Homeland Security Committee who said he toured the borderland and witnessed detention centers there with conditions he described as inhumane and unconscionable. “Meanwhile, we have crumbling infrastructure, schools that are falling apart in some parts of this district.”
But he didn’t commit to opposing any bill that called for a wall: “I don’t want to necessarily get into that type of hypothetical because without the bill or the legislation in front of me I don’t want to say I would or I wouldn’t.”
Horsford, like his primary opponents including state Sen. Patricia Spearman, believes President Donald Trump should be impeached.
“Based on all the information that we know so far, and the investigations that are still ongoing, there’s enough evidence to bring forward articles of impeachment against this president and I would support it,” he said.
Asked about what that evidence was, he cited Trump’s “erratic behavior” and said he questioned “his fitness to serve.”
“Impeachable is not a legal standard. So it’s the standard that members of Congress decide it is,” he said. “And based on his reckless behavior, the role that he and others in his campaign appear to have played in collusion with Russia to influence our elections, which is the cornerstone of our democracy, the use of money, potentially, from Russian oligarchs, to fund campaign activity, which is a direct violation of FEC rules and guidelines — there are many, many things that are becoming evident every day as to why he is unfit to be president and why Congress should hold him accountable.”
Horsford pointed out that he supported legislation to create an “infrastructure bank,” which would help finance transportation projects through loans via the private sector.
He also said adjustments to the gas tax should be under consideration.
“Those are the types of, again, modest adjustments that need to be made in order for us to do what? To rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure, that we all agree is not getting better and it’s not just roads and bridges, it’s also schools, our energy grid, it’s … all of the utility infrastructure in this country is also falling behind."
“We don’t have mass transit, we don’t have high-speed trains, there are a number of things we should be doing in America to make us more competitive and infrastructure could be a big part of that,” he added.
Horsford said he supports decriminalizing marijuana, taking it off the “schedule” of dangerous drugs under the Controlled Substances Act.
“I do support the state’s rights and the voters in the states that have approved recreational marijuana to allow their rights to be upheld and that the federal government needs to stay out of it,” he said, criticizing Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ recent decision to rescind a memo that directed prosecutors to avoid raiding state-legal marijuana businesses.
Horsford said he believes the heavier-handed anti-marijuana policies reemerging under the Trump administration are a way to lock more people up and boost profits for private prisons. He pointed to increases in those companies’ stock prices after Trump’s election.
“They knew that he was going to pass policies to lock more people up so that they could make more profit,” he said. “And Jeff Sessions’ attempts to criminalize marijuana use when most Americans believe that that should not be the case is nothing more than an attempt to lock up more Americans. And disproportionately, people of color — African Americans and Latinos. African American men, who are already serving sentences far longer than they should for drug use.”
Horsford also said he’d like to address the lack of banking in the marijuana industry and noted that he co-sponsored legislation on the matter as a congressman.
“Right now it’s such a cash-heavy industry. It’s not safe and we’ve had incidents already in Las Vegas where ... people have been robbed because those dispensaries and other places can’t go to a bank and deposit their money,” he said. “So those are the types of things that I have been working on and that I will hope to return to advancing when I return to Congress.”
Horsford said he supports raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, although he emphasized that the figure is still probably not a “living wage.”
“We live in a city where the majority of people make more than the minimum wage and they still can’t get by. People that make more than minimum wage are still working two and three jobs. People that make more than the minimum wage are still struggling to provide for their families and that’s not right,” he said. “We have a widening income inequality in this country and part of the tax scheme that Donald Trump and the Republicans passed on their own widens that economic disparity further.”
As for how quickly he wants the wage hike to kick in, Horsford said that would be subject to discussion and negotiation and noted that bills change drastically from the point of introduction to passage.
“I know what it takes to actually legislate and to build consensus toward policy that’s actually going to get passed,” he said. “I am a progressive, I am going to fight for progressive values, and I’m going to get them done. Being effective matters. And results matter.”
In general, Horsford opposes a push to turn more federally managed land over to state control. He pointed to an interim study on the issue in the Legislature.
“The findings were very clear. This state has no ability, resources, funding or infrastructure to manage 85 percent of federal land that’s currently being managed by the BLM, the Forest Service, wildlife or other agencies. It just doesn’t,” he said. “Should there be more of a stake, as far as Nevada county governments, tribal governments, in the use of public lands in Nevada? Absolutely.”
He pointed to his work in ensuring the Wovoka wilderness designation in Lyon County — a move that created 50,000 acres of wilderness designation to preserve Native American heritage sites in the area, while enabling the development of a copper mine that’s expected to employ several thousand people in Yerington.
He also highlighted his effort to designate a Tule Springs Fossil Beds National Monument in Southern Nevada.
“We had Nellis Air Force Base, we had the Moapa tribal leaders, North Las Vegas, Clark County, all the stakeholders — absolutely people should have a say,” he said. “But there’s a way to both preserve and protect public land while making land that can be used for development available for development and I think we need to have a process that achieves both.”
He opposes efforts to shrink the size of Gold Butte National Monument, saying President Barack Obama had the authority to create the designation under the Antiquities Act and no other presidents have undone such designations from a previous administration.
“Talk about overreach. It’s such hypocrisy because they talked about Barack Obama and the prior administration overreaching and doing things beyond his statutory authority as president,” Horsford said. "His designation of Gold Butte and the preservation of those artifacts absolutely was within his jurisdiction."
“I think Donald Trump is overreaching, just as he was with the Muslim ban and other measures,” Horsford said. “I think the courts will ultimately hold him accountable and thank goodness, because this is the time we need our institutions to play their role at every level.”
Horsford led the Senate when the Legislature raised a variety of taxes in 2009, a move that earned him the scorn of Republican then-Gov. Jim Gibbons. The $1 billion tax package raised the sales tax by 0.35 percentage points, doubled the business license fee to $200 a year, raised hotel room taxes and the payroll tax rate and hiked car registration taxes by 10 percent.
Lawmakers approved the tax increases in spite of Gibbons’ veto, voting to override him. The taxes were supposed to sunset in 2011, but were repeatedly extended and eventually made permanent in 2015.
Horsford railed against Republicans’ new tax overhaul, saying it favors big corporations over everyday Americans.
“The fact that billionaires like Sheldon Adelson are going to get a tax cut, while small businesses and middle class families are getting almost nothing, it’s not fair, it’s not right,” he said. “It’s part of what is rigged in Washington and we’ve got to change it.”
Republicans have been on the offensive about their bill since it passed in late December, touting subsequent announcements from numerous major corporations that they would be expanding their operations, offering $1,000 bonuses to employees and in some cases raising the starting wage. Horsford still passionately opposes the legislation.
“Bonuses! One-time bonuses! Not an increase in their wages, not more benefits, a bonus. A one-time bonus,” he said. “Their tax cuts are permanent. Never go away. Never sunset. Meanwhile the modest cut that was given to the lower income brackets — those sunset. Those phase out. Why? Because it’s rigged. It’s rigged for the powerful, the rich and the connected against all the rest of us. It’s not for all of us. Doesn’t work for all of us.”
Asked what he would do about the overhaul if elected, he pointed to some proposals already on the table.
“Even Republicans like Marco Rubio have talked about increasing the corporate tax rate 2 percent in order to pay for infrastructure, which would create more jobs and grow the economy (more) than any tax cut has done,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty modest proposal and it’s coming from a Republican U.S. senator who ran for president. So those are reasonable positions.”
He noted that he worked on tax policy in the Nevada Legislature and understands the implications for businesses and individuals, especially after becoming a small business owner and paying related taxes.
He conceded that the old tax code could have used some reforms to increase the country’s attractiveness to businesses.
“Making America competitive around the world is always a good thing. And I was open to reforms to the tax code that would have provided that competitiveness,” he said. “I think if the Republicans would have negotiated with Democrats, we would have gotten a better bill that was more fair that did provide for some benefits to small businesses, to the middle class, you know, to those who aren’t making a million dollars or more, which is all they seem to care about.”
Horsford said he’s “absolutely” opposed to using Yucca Mountain as a nuclear waste repository — a contrast to his possible opponent Republican Cresent Hardy, who said he’s open to discussing waste storage and gauging where Nevadans stand.
“I was open to and had been provided information on other uses, data centers ... fiber optic networks,” he said. “I do think there could be uses for it, but it should not be for the storage of dangerous nuclear waste."