81°F
weather icon Clear

Life experiences have shaped political outlook for Nevada Senate leader Ford

CARSON CITY — As a youngster in Texas, Aaron Ford didn’t know his family was poor. It was just a fact of life that utilities — water, gas — got shut off sometimes. You dealt with it.

“I just believed this is how folks lived,” said the Democrat, who on Monday takes command in the Nevada Senate as majority leader when the 2017 Legislature convenes.

“I remember my mom saying to me, ‘When you grow up and get an apartment, make sure you have an electric stove — and gas, for other things.’”

Why?

 

“Because if the gas ever gets cut off, you can boil water on the electric stove and poor it in the bathtub for a hot bath. And we did that several times,” Ford said.

His dad would jigger the gas hookup outside to turn it back on. And his mom got angry when Ford or his two little brothers forgot to fill the water jugs.

“We used to fill up our milk jugs with water and put them in the refrigerator, because if the water got cut off, we need to have something we could drink,” Ford said of his humble beginnings.

 

DRIVEN, NOT DEFINED

His mom’s advice on how to survive poverty could have foretold his future. It didn’t.

“My background, I’m not ashamed of it,” Ford said during a recent interview in Carson City. “It makes me who I am. It forms the thought process on everything I do.”

Ford, 44, becomes the second African-American to hold the top Senate leadership post in Nevada. He was minority leader in 2015, and there was no question within the Democratic caucus he should be majority leader, said State Sen. Mark Manendo, D-Las Vegas.

“He has the expertise and political savvy to be able to guide our Senate Democratic caucus for the 2017 session,” Manendo said.

Ford was elected in 2012, after losing in 2010 when ran for a different Senate seat.

An impeccable dresser, Ford is known for crisp suits and a seemingly endless assortment of bowties — almost enough to wear a different one every day of the 120-day session. He speaks Spanish fluently and holds five college degrees: a bachelor’s, two master’s, a doctorate — all in education — and a law degree.

He will shepherd the Democratic agenda in the upper chamber and try to muster support and consensus from Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval and his GOP colleagues.

“We’re going to focus on those things that expand and protect the middle class,” Ford said. “We’re looking at ensuring women have equal pay for equal work. Earned sick leave. College affordability.

“Our economic message is going to be robust. Deal with minimum wage. Find ways for people to actualize their abilities through economic opportunity.”

He supports gun rights, but he adds that other constitutional amendments are just as important.

SCHOOL CHOICE

Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, R-Henderson, issued a pre-session threat: If Democrats don’t include Education Savings Accounts — a program to use tax dollars for private school tuition — Republicans will vote against the budget.

Will Democrats take up ESAs?

“I doubt it. But I don’t know,” Ford said. “Our focus is on ensuring public education is properly funded.”

Ford gets annoyed by critics who say Democrats are against school choice.

“The truth is we support school choice,” he said. “We support it in the public context.

“We have opportunities for charter schools. We have open enrollment. We have home schooling. So there are public options for school choice that we could be using that money on.

“To say we don’t support school choice because we don’t support vouchers is just flat-out wrong,” Ford said.

EARLY ADULTHOOD

Poverty was only one challenge in Ford’s early life.

His folks divorced when he was 10. “I became the man of the house.” While his mother worked nights, he cared for his brothers, making sure they were fed and got to bed on time.

When his mother remarried, Ford’s relationship with his stepfather was strained. “We didn’t get along,” Ford said, conceding he himself was “belligerent.” For years the adolescent-with-an-attitude called his stepdad “Mr. Claiborne.”

But time, and the example his stepfather set, thawed the icy discord.

“At the end of the day, I’ve looked up to him now as an example of a selfless guy who came into a ready-made family,” Ford said. “He adopted us in the figurative sense as his own kids.

“Now I call him Daddy Joe.”

A YOUNG DADDY

Ford learned quickly the responsibility of being “daddy.” It was 1993. He was 21, attending Texas A&M University on a partial scholarship and about to embark on a year of study in Mexico when his girlfriend gave birth to their son, Avery.

With the help of family, his girlfriend continued in college, and Ford went to Mexico. But he cut his study abroad short when the couple broke up and he gained custody of the infant.

Ford moved into public housing and went on welfare. He was keenly aware of the likely trajectory of people in poverty. He saw what happened to others from his neighborhood. Some were in jail, and some ended up dead.

“My impetus was to be just the opposite of what I saw in the first part of my life,” Ford said.

He met his wife, Berna, a short-time later, while she was finishing her law degree. They moved to Nevada in 2000. They have two other sons — Aaron Jr., aka “Deuce,” and Alexander — and raised Ford’s nephew.

All went to public school, though Deuce, an intellectual genius, received a scholarship and now attends an elite boarding school on the East Coast.

THE ‘TALK’

In 2015, Ford sponsored a bill seeking to require police to wear body cameras to protect the public and police officers alike. The final legislation signed by the governor pertained to state troopers. But the measure sparked discussion of police interactions with the public, particularly minorities, amid headlines on use of force from around the country — Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore; Chicago; Florida.

In committee hearings and on the Senate floor, Ford has often remarked about having “the talk” with his sons — about how, rightly or wrongly, things are different for people of color.

“We have that talk every time something comes up, and it’s heartbreaking to have to have that conversation,” Ford said.

He presses upon them that it’s not fair, but they have to be more concerned about how they look, how they act and how they talk.

“My kids don’t sag their pants. My kids don’t wear cornrows … because I won’t let them in fear of the fact they’re going to be profiled in a sense,” Ford said.

But Ford also takes pride in Nevada’s ethnic diversity and the gains made since it was dubbed the “Mississippi of the West” for racial segregation and discrimination in the middle of the last century.

“How many states do you know … that has three ethnic minorities leading the state?” he asked.

He points to Sandoval, Nevada’s first Hispanic governor; incoming Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson, the first African American to hold that post; and Ford’s own place as leader of the Senate.

Ford’s second-in-command is Sen. Kelvin Atkinson, a gay black man. Assemblywoman Teresa Benitez-Thompson, a Latina, is majority leader in the lower house.

“We have in our state an opportunity to continue to reflect what our state is about and what it looks like, and that is inclusion and fairness and equal treatment for all folks,” Ford said.

Contact Sandra Chereb at schereb@reviewjournal.com or 775-461-3821. Follow @SandraChereb on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Kamala Harris campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic Sen. Kamala Harris castigated President Donald Trump’s merit-based immigration plan, saying it was “short-sighted” and overlooked the cultural significance of family, during a campaign stop in Las Vegas. “We cannot allow people to start parsing and pointing fingers and creating hierarchies among immigrants,” Harris told Asian Pacific Islander leaders at a Chinatown restaurant, one of two appearances she made Thursday.
The Right Take New Education Funding Plan - VIDEO
On Monday, Senate Education Committee chair Mo Denis, D-Las Vegas, released a new education funding formula. For years, many Democrat politicians have criticized the current education funding formula, called the Nevada Plan. They claim it’s old and outdated. Their biggest beef is that it doesn’t allocate more money for students who are English Language Learners or live in poverty. The theory is that it’s harder to educate those students and so they need additional services, which costs additional money.
Kamala Harris campaigns in Nevada
California Senator Kamala Harris meets with One APIA Nevada, a nonprofit organization that advocates for policies empowering Asian Pacific Islander Nevadans. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Ben Carson talks housing (Audio only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Ben Carson visits the RJ (Full Audio Only)
Ben Carson discusses housing with the Review-Journal editorial board on Thursday. (Audio only)
Former Vice President Joe Biden campaigns in Nevada
After campaigning at the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades District Council 16 in Henderson, former Vice President Joe Biden spoke with the Review-Journal.
Student serenades Mayor Carolyn Goodman at swearing in
Students from the school she founded, The Meadows School, serenaded Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman during a swearing in ceremony for her third and final term. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Al Gore Speaks At UNLV About Climate Change - Video
Former Vice President of the United States Al Gore talks to an audience at UNLV about the effects of Climate change and how to switch to renewable sources of energy.
Forum on Wages and Working People Highlights - VIDEO
Presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren, Beto O'Rourke, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar, Julian Castro, and John Hickenlooper speak in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Nevada Politics Today Valerie Weber - VIDEO
Valerie Weber sits down with Victor Joecks to discuss her policies and why she is running for Ward 2 of the Las Vegas City Council.
Cory Booker speaks at UNLV
US Senator Cory Booker speaks at UNLV during a Young Democrats meet and greet on Thursday, April 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
May-Brown describes why some with disabilities need the subminimum wage - VIDEO
Eliminating the subminimum wage will end training and work opportunities for some members of the disabled community. Instead of doing something productive, they would be relegated to adult day care. That’s according to Tracy May-Brown, Opportunity Village’s director of advocacy, board and government relations.
Commission’s decision will delay Red Rock Canyon development
The Clark County Commission Wednesday rejected a developer’s request to approve a preliminary plan for 3,000 homes overlooking Red Rock Canyon before a federal agency grants permission for a roadway leading to the site.
Clark County commissioner calls on landlords to bring properties up to code
Clark County Commissioner Tick Segerblom has called on landlords in older parts of the valley to bring their properties up to code and keep them well-maintained or face the prospect of inspections, fines and citations. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Harry Reid speaks out against anti-Semitism
Unnerved by the rise in anti-Semitic hate speech and the general pervasiveness of bigotry, including in Nevada, former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid organized an educational forum at UNLV on Thursday as part of his call to unite people against it. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
President Trump speaks to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and updated on Israeli relations. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trump says border wall will have 'hundreds of miles' built by end of next year
President Donald Trump spoke at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas and discussed the progress of the border wall and the current relations there. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Protesters disrupt Trump's speech
Just as President Donald Trump started to make his opening remarks during his appearance at the Republican Jewish Coalition’s National Leadership Meeting, protesters disrupted his speech. (Heidi Fang/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Roerink On The Problems With Taking Water From Eastern Nevada - Video
The Southern Nevada Water Authority wants to take billions of gallons of water that doesn’t exist from Eastern Nevada via a pipeline that would cost ratepayers $15 billion. Doing so would devastate the wildlife and people who live there. That’s according to Kyle Roerink, executive director of the Great Basin Water Network, which opposes the pipeline.
Las Vegas Election Night Wrap-Up
The Review-Journal's Politics and Government Editor, Steve Sebelius, wraps up election night. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Olivia Diaz Speaks To Ward 3 Supporters After Primary Election - Video
Olivia Diaz speaks to her supporters at a election party after results started coming in for the Ward 3 primaries.
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (edited)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife, Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Oscar Goodman Speaks On Behalf Of Mayor At Primary Win (Full)
Oscar Goodman spoke Tuesday night on behalf of his wife Carolyn, who won the mayoral primary election. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Gun Debate Shows Limits Of Government - Video
On Monday, the Assembly and Senate Judiciary Committees held a joint hearing on Assembly Bill 291. It would ban bump stocks and allow local governments to pass additional restrictions on firearms.
Lucy Flores speaks out about Biden incident
Former Nevada assemblywoman, Lucy Flores, expresses her feelings about an incident with former Vice President Joe Biden in 2014. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Harry Reid takes the stand in injury lawsuit
Former U.S. Sen. Harry Reid took the stand on Thursday in the product liability lawsuit brought against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Jurors hear opening statements in Reid personal injury trial
Opening statements were made on Tuesday in the product liability lawsuit brought by Harry Reid against against the makers of a resistance exercise band that Reid blames for blinding him in one eye.
Mayor Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels
Mayor Carolyn Goodman delivers Meals on Wheels to seniors on March 26, 2019.
Las Vegas City Council Ward 1 race
Candidates for Las Vegas City Council Ward 1. (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O’Rourke campaigns in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate and former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke addresses attendees during a campaign stop at Arandas Taqueria in Las Vegas on Sunday, March 24, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Beto O'Rourke House Party in Las Vegas
Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke delivered a message of unity inside a Las Vegas living room Saturday night, outlining a mission to bridge the divide in a polarized America and rally behind “big defining ambitions that we have in common.” (Shea Johnson/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks at Atomic Liquors
Democrat presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand talks to her supporters at Atomic Liquors.
Presidential candidate Gillibrand meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys
Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., meets with UNLV Immigration Clinic student attorneys at her first stop in Nevada as a candidate Thursday, March 21, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto promotes the Rebuild America’s Schools Act
U.S. Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., co-sponsor of the Rebuild America’s Schools Act, speaks at Hoggard Elementary School in Las Vegas to promote the bill that would provide $100 billion for infrastructure improvements at schools across the country. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Scholar Max Eden on how restorative justice decreases student achievement - VIDEO
Across the country, restorative justice is lowering test scores and increasing the number of students who feel unsafe at schools. That’s according to Max Eden, a senior fellow with the Manhattan Institute, who recently released a study discipline reform.
NV Dems Want To Gut Read By Three - Video
Nevada’s students have a major problem. They aren’t very good at reading. In 2017, just 31 percent of fourth graders were proficient at reading according to the National Assessment of Education Progress. The number proficient falls to 28 percent in eighth grade. Read by Three could change that. If a student can’t read at grade level by the end of third grade, he repeats the grade.
Presidential hopeful Tulsi Gabbard stumps in Las Vegas
Presidential hopeful U.S. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, holds a meet and greet at the Asian Culture Center in downtown Las Vegas Monday, March 18, 2019. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Nye County pushes back against state gun bill
Gun store owner Robby Brentlinger and John Koenig, Chairman of the Nye County Board of Commissioners, discuss their thoughts on gun rights and Nevada Senate Bill 143. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @Vegas88s
Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday.
Atkinson pleads guilty to wire fraud charges
U.S. Attorney’s Office announces plea deal for charges against former Nevada Senate majority leader Kelvin Atkinson during a press conference on Monday, March 11, 2019. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleads guilty
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson pleaded guilty to a federal wire fraud charge Monday, less than a week after resigning from his post. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Melania Trump Speaks Out About Opioid Epidemic - VIDEO
Melania Trump speaks at the Westgate hotel about the Opioid epidemic in the United State and how this generation can be the group that ends it.
Nevada Legislative Session Preview: Education, Yucca Mountain and Microchips
The Nevada Legislature will be meeting to look at new bills that involve education and marriage age restrictions. Governor Sisolak has also requested to meet with the White House about the plutonium shipments sent to Nevada.
Cortez Masto, Rosen For Infanticide - VIDEO
If an abortionist — armed with scissors, clamps and a vacuum cleaner — can’t kill a baby while she’s still in the womb, he shouldn’t get another chance after she’s born. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen disagree.
THE LATEST
Japan welcomes Trump with golf, sumo wrestling

TOKYO — Under the threat of potentially devastating U.S. tariffs on autos, Japan is ready to roll out the newest phase of its charm offensive targeting President Donald Trump as it welcomes him on a state visit tailor-made to his whims and ego.

Bill that would have rewritten Nevada water laws dies

Despite the breakdown in negotiations that led to the bill’s demise Friday, a key deadline in the Nevada Legislature for bills not declared exempt to pass the second house, stakeholders plan to work together to hash out potential water policy changes.