Freshman U.S. Rep. Steven Horsford, D-Nev., says he has 700,000 bosses — all constituents living in his 4th Congressional District, which stretches across 52,000 square miles of the southern half of Nevada.
The state’s first African-American congressman, Horsford also is the first representative of the district created after the 2010 U.S. Census.
“I’m hired by 700,000 people to do a job, and every two years I’m up for review,” Horsford said.
In the June 10 primary, Horsford faces two Democratic challengers, little-known Mark Budetich, Jr., and Sid Zeller, who two years ago lost his bid to represent the district as a Republican. There’s been no interaction among them.
The Republican primary contest, however, has been lively with the top two GOP challengers, Assemblyman Cresent Hardy, R-Mesquite, and conservative civil rights activist Niger Innis, debating several times.
Two other lesser-known Republicans also are in the race, carpenter Mike Monroe and retired garbageman Carlo Poliak, a perennial candidate who has been on the Nevada ballot in nearly every election since 1976.
The vast district has both rural and urban voters to please. More than four-fifths of the district’s citizens live in the northern part of Clark County, including Horsford’s hometown of North Las Vegas. But the district also includes rural residents in Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties and part of Lyon County. Nearly nearly 30 percent are Hispanic, 14 percent black, 4.4 percent Asian, 1.2 percent Native American and 14.8 percent “other.” Some 36 percent are white.
“I’m out to every corner of the district, talking to people about their concerns,” Horsford said in an interview while traveling to appearances in Yerington and Hawthorne. “People want us to get things done. On every issue I’m working hard for the people of this district, and I’m asking for their continuing support.”
Horsford said that in his first term he focused on helping constituents deal with federal bureaucracy, helping veterans get benefits, including $118,000 in back payments for one man. His office also has helped with Social Security disability claims, including one for a man who had quadruple bypass surgery and nearly lost his house until his claim was approved quickly after going to Horsford for help.
In all, Horsford’s office has helped constituents get $1.5 million in federal benefits owed to them, he said.
Horsford also has worked with the rest of Nevada’s congressional delegation on a major public lands bill that would create a 22,650-acre national monument in Southern Nevada to protect ice age fossils at Tule Springs. The omnibus bill also would reconfigure public lands in other parts of the Las Vegas valley, including transferring 660 acres to Las Vegas and 645 acres to North Las Vegas for “job creation zones.”
Horsford said the bill is a good example of how Nevada can gain more control of the 85 percent of the state now owned by the federal government.
If re-elected, Horsford said he would also place a priority on helping people stay in their homes. He recently won a seat on the House Financial Services Committee and will serve on a subcommittee dealing with housing.
“We still have the most unstable housing market in the country,” with 40 percent of homeowners owing more on their houses than they’re worth, Horsford said.
Horsford’s challenger, Zeller, said he switched parties because he felt his concerns, including promoting renewable energy, aligned more with the Democratic Party than with Republicans, whom he said are too focused on retaining power and not on solutions.
A Reno resident, Zeller said he often travels through the northern part of the district on his commute to California for his military training job. He said he would have no trouble representing the entire area and would visit North Las Vegas often.
His main idea, if elected, is to commit 10 percent of federal land in Nevada to renewable energy projects, including biofuels, geothermal, wind and solar. He said, for example, Walker Lake could be an algae pond for biofuels. And he said the area around the Hawthorne Ammunition Depot is perfect for developing such projects.
“I want to make Nevada the renewable capital of the world,” Zeller said.
Budetich could not be reached for comment and didn’t respond to interview requests.
GOP candidates list priorities
In the Republican primary, Hardy, a fifth-generation Nevadan, is backed by top GOP officials, including Gov. Brian Sandoval, U.S. Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nev., and U.S. Rep. Mark Amodei, R-Nev.
Hardy said his priorities include getting federal spending under control and creating a more stable economic environment for businesses so they will start hiring again.
“Entrepreneurs are not going to invest in new businesses while there’s an unstable economy,” he said. “Debt scares people.”
Hardy, who ran a construction business for 20 years, also has served on the Mesquite City Council and as a member of the Virgin Valley Water District. In 2012, hit by the recession, his Mesquite company declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which allowed for a financial reorganization without closing or laying off employees.
He said his business and public service experience, including some tough times, gives him an edge over his opponents.
“I’m the only person with a proven record on the Republican side,” Hardy said. “I have a solid conservative record.”
In the Nevada Legislature, Hardy also helped negotiate end-of-session budgets deals with Democrats, saying he’s comfortable working across the aisle to find solutions as opposed to the gridlock in highly partisan Washington.
Innis, who moved to Nevada in 2007, was endorsed by the Nevada Republican Party over Hardy. While active in local politics, he never has run for public office and until recently wasn’t very engaged in the electoral process.
Records in his native New York and in Nevada show Innis voted only four times since 2000, including in both the 2012 primary and general elections in Nevada.
Despite that, Innis has been a vocal and busy conservative activist for civil rights as the national spokesman for the Congress of Racial Equality, where his father, Roy Innis is longtime national director. Niger Innis also is a frequent national TV and radio talk show guest and has worked with TeaParty.net.
Innis, who is African-American, said he’s running because business and community leaders thought he could bring a fresh perspective to the job. He’s a strong advocate for immigration reform and has run a school in Southern Nevada that teaches immigrants English, government and about the U.S. Constitution.
“I’ve been bringing different types of people together for years,” Innis said.
If elected, he said his first priority would be to start a “liberty caucus” in Congress, welcoming Republicans, Democrats and libertarian-leaning lawmakers who want to get back to the nation’s roots. He said the caucus would examine every regulation and every tax to determine if they are still needed. Society is now over-regulated and over-taxed, he said.
“Right now the environment is suffocating small businesses and is killing jobs,” Innis said. “A real sustainable recovery where incomes go up comes when small businesses are creating jobs.”
Both Hardy and Innis, like Horsford, want to get more federal land into Nevada hands.
Monroe has run for Congress twice before. He said he wants the job for a few reasons, including the $175,000 annual pay.
“Congressman Horsford doesn’t bring home the bacon,” Monroe said. “He has no vision.”
Monroe said he wants to revamp the 19th-Century mining act that caps industry taxes. He said profits from Nevada’s precious resources should pay higher teacher salaries, for example.
The nation’s water policy also needs reform, he said, because now there’s too much waste, and Lake Mead is shrinking.
“Give me two years and I’m through,” he said of his promise to serve just one term. “I’m not going to get hooked on the money.”
Poliak, who has run for everything from Clark County commissioner to U.S. Senate, said this is his first congressional run and he decided to seek the seat “because it’s winnable.” He said today’s Congress has lost its way.
“They have no regard for the life, liberty and pursuit of happiness of people,” Poliak said. “I’m very much concerned about what benefits the public. College should be free, for example.”
Poliak said the Social Security retirement age also should be cut to 60, more in line with European nations.
Asked how the U.S. government would pay for all of this, he said by cutting all foreign aid — which is less than 1 percent of the federal budget.
“We can’t even provide for our health, safety and welfare, why are we giving money away?” he asked.