CARSON CITY — Aaron Ford credits a joke that his then-teenage son played on him as a catalyst for his political career.
It was 2007, and Ford had just moved to Las Vegas from his native Texas. His son Avery, then a freshman in high school, had a question.
“Dad, every decision you make is for the improvement of the family, right?” Ford recalled in an interview this month with the Review-Journal.
“Every decision I make, I’m looking out for the family first,” Ford replied.
“So then why’d you just move us from Dallas back to Las Vegas, which is ranked No. 50 in education?” Avery asked.
Avery then smiled and said, “Ha! Gotcha, Dad.”
The joke was like a gut punch for the math teacher-turned-lawyer with a Ph.D in education administration.
“It was a real question,” Ford said. “At the end of the day I decided that in addition to what I’d already been concerned about, I needed to not be on the outside throwing rocks. I needed to get inside, and find the right time to run for office so that I could affect some change for all Nevadans, from my kids all the way to our seniors.”
Now, more than a decade later, Ford is in the midst of his third term in the Nevada Senate and is the Democratic nominee for attorney general.
The 46-year-old Senate Majority Leader said the race is “an opportunity to put someone in the attorney general’s office who is going to look out for Nevada families first.”
Ford said outgoing attorney general and Republican governor candidate Adam Laxalt has used the office to push an “ideological agenda,” noting that the office has filed briefs in other states supporting cases from whether super PACs should have to disclose their donors to abortion rights.
“That’s a prime example of an ideological agenda, and not one that’s looking out for the people in the state of Nevada,” Ford said.
Friends say they have seen Ford’s tenacity, and saw his political potential years before he decided to first run for office.
Ford’s path to Las Vegas began in 2000 while he was working towards his law degree at Ohio State University and had come to UNLV as part of a visiting student program. There he met someone who would not only become a peer in the field of law, but eventually a close friend and a colleague in government — Jason Frierson.
“We bonded immediately,” Frierson, now the Assembly Speaker, recalled.
Soon, their chats turned towards the future.
“I didn’t get very long for us to sit down and talk about the prospect of running for office one day,” Frierson said.
Ford finished earning his law degree at Ohio State, and by 2007 he was in Las Vegas for good and Avery’s joke had hit home. Ford considered a run for the Assembly, but was recruited by former state Democratic Senate leader Steven Horsford, to run for the Senate in 2010.
“Because of his experience and strong background, and desire to want to serve, I recruited him as one our candidates,” Horsford said. “We knew we were in for an uphill battle. But he was committed to running.”
Ford lost the open race against Republican Joe Hardy, and it really wasn’t close.
But two years later, he was back.
“I didn’t run because I thought it would be easy. And it wasn’t,” Ford said. “But my reasons for running didn’t change — I still wanted to get involved because it was the right thing to do.”
Ford ran in a newly drawn district with a more favorable Democratic voter registration advantage, and won the seat with ease.
“He didn’t give up. He worked really hard to come back and win,” Horsford said.
Ford’s first taste in statehouse governing came in 2013, and it wasn’t just his signature bow-ties that helped the freshman lawmaker stand out.
With his background as a teacher — and Avery’s prodding joke in the back of his mind — Ford pushed education-focused bills, including one law that makes it so Nevada high school students could lose their drivers licenses for being truant.
Ford was tabbed as the chairman of the Committee on Natural Resources, although he still doesn’t know why.
“I jokingly say that I don’t hunt. I don’t fish. I don’t camp. I’m not a tree hugger. I’m not an environmentalist. I barely go outside,” Ford recalled saying on the first day of the session.
But lawmakers, when polled by the Review-Journal in 2013, praised Ford for his fairness in the as the chairman of the committee, which often drew hundreds of spectators because of its bills dealing with animals.
Frierson remembers back to a night late in Carson City during that session.
Frierson walked out of his office and spotted Ford across the hall — the only people there. The two men, who bonded so quickly more than a decade earlier as law school students, exchanged a look.
“It was just a surreal moment,” Frierson said.
Education: Texas A&M University, B.A.
George Washington University, M.A.
Ohio State University, M.A., J.D., Ph.D
Family: Wife Berna, three children