Nevada’s profile grows as Congress opens new session

WASHINGTON – Nevada’s voice to the federal government grew a bit louder Thursday when Steven Horsford of Las Vegas was sworn into office as its fourth member of the House of Representatives.

With his three children seated beside him, Horsford, a Democrat, took part in the mass swearing-in of House lawmakers that marked the opening day of the new Congress. Earlier, he had picked up his voting card and other accessories of his new position.

"Yes, I’m official now," Horsford said outside his new and still sparse office across from the Capitol where his family gathered to celebrate and where his staff was waiting for the workers to come by to hang up artwork.

Besides being the state’s newest lawmaker, Horsford became the first African-American from Nevada elected to federal office.

Horsford’s mother beamed.

"I’m very, very proud," Pamela Horsford said, trailing her family as they walked through the office complex to the Capitol for the opening ceremony and as her son stopped to shake hands with new colleagues. "My fondest memory is of him going to elementary school in a suit. Little did we know."

It was not the only change in Nevada’s delegation as the 113th Congress opened for business.

Dina Titus, 62, returned to the House after a two-year absence. She took office to represent the urban Las Vegas district that Shelley Berkley gave up to run, unsuccessfully, for the U.S. Senate.

"It’s nice to have a lot of people make you feel like they missed you and they’re glad you’re here," Titus said on the steps of the Capitol after taking part in a photo with Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and other Democratic women.

The 1st Congressional District is heavily Democratic, which Titus said gave her comfort. Fellow Democrat Berkley represented the area for 14 years, leaving only after running for higher office.

"It was gratifying to have a district that fits me and that I can be here awhile and get some things done," Titus said, adding the district shares contours with the one she represented in the state Senate from 1988 to 2008. "It is home, and it feels good," she said.

In the Senate, Dean Heller of Carson City was sworn into office for a full six-year term after winning election in November. The Republican had been appointed to the Senate in May 2011 to fill the term of fellow Republican John Ensign, who resigned amid an ethics scandal, and returned after winning it on his own.

History on his mind, Heller, 52, emerged from the Old Senate Chamber in the Capitol after introducing his in-laws to Vice President Joe Biden during a ceremonial swearing-in.

"When you think of the names and the people here, even our most notable (Nevada) senators of most recent past like (Paul) Laxalt, Harry Reid, this is just an institution I have a tremendous amount of pride in," Heller said.

Republican Reps. Joe Heck of Henderson and Mark Amodei of Carson City also renewed their oaths of office as they began their second terms and got to work.

Sen. Harry Reid is in the middle of a six-year term and returned to work as the Senate majority leader.

Horsford, 39, former state Senate leader and chief executive of the Culinary Academy of Las Vegas, won election in the state’s newest congressional district, created after population growth over the past decade.

The 4th Congressional District includes most of northern Clark County, parts of Douglas and Lyon counties, and all of Esmeralda, Lincoln, Mineral, Nye and White Pine counties. Most of his constituents live in the North Las Vegas and Las Vegas parts of the district.

With four House members, Nevada now has as much representation as Kansas, Iowa, Mississippi and Arkansas and more than West Virginia, Nebraska and New Mexico, which have three apiece. All told, the Silver State has as many or more lawmakers than 19 other states.

"Today marks the day that our congressional delegation grows by one and gives us a stronger voice in Washington," Reid said. Still, he added, "as a small state we need to fight to ensure Nevada receives its fair share of resources."

The 112th Congress just had adjourned on Wednesday after struggling through the holidays to avert the "fiscal cliff" and finally doing so on New Year’s Day. To some, the opening of the 113th Congress seemed less like a fresh start and more like a new shift of workers punching in time clocks to resume hammering at the nation’s debt and deficit problems.

Already lawmakers were focusing on a looming debate over increasing the government’s borrowing powers by late February or risking default on its debts, a replay of a congressional slugfest in the summer of 2011.

"There’s a lot to do that is left over, I can say that," Titus said. "I don’t want this Congress to be seen as not getting the job done like the last one was. I’m sure those battles will start now."

But Heller said he was hopeful the new members of Congress – 12 newly elected senators and 82 House freshmen – will yield early fruit.

"We have some new names and new faces and new blood, and I think they bring in optimism that I hope is contagious," he said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@stephensmedia.com or 202-783-1760. Follow him on Twitter @STetreaultDC.

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