NORTH LAS VEGAS - Democratic Majority Leader Steven Horsford says he won't recuse himself from drawing new voter maps if the Legislature is called into a special session to finish the redistricting process, even though the results could decide the outcome of his House run.
Horsford formally announced his candidacy for a still-undefined U.S. House seat Thursday in North Las Vegas. He says he will run in whichever district includes that area.
The Legislature must redraw the state's voter boundaries every decade based on Census data, but they didn't finish the job this year. That sent the fight to the courts, where a Carson City district judge and the Nevada Supreme Court are deciding how the maps will be drawn.
Horsford says he will oversee the redistricting fight if a special session is called.
Horsford hopes to succeed Democratic Rep. Shelley Berkley, who is running for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
"It's a decision that I've taken very seriously," Horsford said. "I'm very proud of many of the things we have been able to accomplish in the state Senate and I would like to build on some of those accomplishments in Congress."
Horsford, 38, was elected in a heavily Democratic, North Las Vegas-based district in 2004 and became the state's first black majority leader in 2008. His ascension to one of Nevada's most powerful posts is notable in this western state, where black voters complained for decades of disenfranchisement. When Horsford became Senate majority leader, he was only the fourth black to serve as a state senator since the Nevada Legislature first convened in 1864.
Republicans have been counting on Horsford's much rumored run for Congress to help them take back the Senate, where Democrats have a slim 11-10 majority.
"This is great for Senate Republicans," said Sen. Michael Roberson, chairman of the GOP's Senate election campaign. "The Senate Democrats are left with a very thin bench. They are left with folks who don't have experience running a campaign."
The Democrats' other top state lawmaker, Assembly Speaker John Oceguera, was the first to announce his candidacy. Former Democratic Rep. Dina Titus and Democratic state Sens. Ruben Kihuen and John Lee are also vying for a seat. Among the Republicans, Reps. Joe Heck and Mark Amodei will likely seek re-election.
Horsford is expected to run in a district that includes a substantial number of minorities, but he will have to win over white voters. Blacks in Nevada made up 8 percent of the population in 2010, compared to 12.6 nationally.
"Right now, there is no greater priority than putting people back to work and helping to get some security for those who have jobs," he said.
As the majority leader, Horsford was an early critic of Republican Gov. Brian Sandoval's efforts to reduce education dollars and lobbied for higher taxes to pay for social services. He is a loyal Democratic player, serving as a national Democratic committee member and campaigning for President Barack Obama in 2008. Horsford's campaign website features a picture of his family with Obama in the Oval Office.
Republicans and Democrats alike describe him as charming, but a tough negotiator. In one instance, Horsford ordered all senators into their chamber and told sergeants-at-arms to find three missing lawmakers after the Legislature failed to compromise on public employee and retiree benefits during the 2009 session.
"We could argue all night and get up and shake hands," said Republican Assemblyman Pete Goicoechea. "He definitely has political savvy and clarity."
But critics complain that Horsford's leadership style lacks compromise. Roberson said Horsford failed to put out a budget plan after weeks of blasting Sandoval's fiscal vision, championed a $1.2 billion tax proposal and refused to pass "fair" voter district maps. Sandoval twice vetoed maps passed by the Democrat-controlled Legislature, labeling them unacceptably partisan.
"He clearly did not work across the aisle," Roberson said. "It was more his way or his way."
Horsford countered that he worked with Republicans on health care legislation.
"I am known for working across party lines to get things done," he said. "What I don't do is I don't compromise my ideals and convictions. I don't sell my constituents out."