December 23, 2002
HORN leaving quiet legacy as he bows out of political spotlight
By TOBY ECKERT
Copley News Service
WASHINGTON -- After a decade in Congress, Rep. Steve Horn says he has no regrets.
Even the dismembering of his district by California state legislators, which forced the Long Beach Republican's impending retirement, didn't bother him, he insisted recently.
""I had gotten done what I wanted to in 10 years,'' Horn said, though he gamely took a poke at the mapmakers by opining that they may have hurt the state's interests by disposing of a lawmaker with his seniority.
Be that as it may, Horn, 71, is winding down a political career that dates to the Eisenhower administration, supplemented by an extended foray into academia. After the 107th Congress adjourned in November, Horn vacated his Capitol Hill office, though he has maintained an outpost in the office of the House government efficiency subcommittee, which he chaired.
His district office in Lakewood will close its doors on Dec. 31, a week before the 108th Congress is sworn in.
Asked what he considered his biggest legislative achievement, Horn characteristically cited something that didn't grab many headlines: the 1996 Debt Collection Improvement Act, aimed at bringing in some $60 billion in non-tax debts owed to the federal government.
Horn steered the legislation through his subcommittee, with help, he pointed out, from Democrats on the panel and the Clinton White House.
Closer to home, observers cite two bread-and-butter accomplishments: heading off proposed cuts to production of the Air Force's C-17 cargo plane, which would have jeopardized thousands of jobs at the Boeing plant in Long Beach; and steering funds to the Alameda Corridor, the giant road and rail project designed to speed cargo from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach to a key distribution point near downtown L.A.
""We're always looking out for California's share of this and that. The C-17 and Alameda Corridor were a key part of that,'' said Tim Ransdell, executive director of the non-partisan California Institute for Federal Policy Research.
Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, a Democrat, also cited those two projects in assessing Horn's legacy.
""We're really sorry he's not going to be representing us any more,'' she said.
When California state lawmakers redrew congressional district boundaries last year, Horn's district was divided between fellow U.S. Reps. Juanita Millender-McDonald, D-Carson, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntingon Beach.
Rather than challenge either entrenched incumbent, Horn decided to call it quits, despite his track record of beating the political odds by repeatedly -- if narrowly -- winning re-election as a Republican in a district where most voters identified themselves as Democrats.
One reason for Horn's survival was his voting record on social issues. While conservatives dominated the House Republican agenda, Horn took a liberal stand on issues like abortion rights and gun control.
Party leaders sometimes tried to twist his arm on those issues, but Horn said he was never the target of retaliation.
""People realize that your constituencies, your values, all of that plays into what we say. I never had to change a vote,'' Horn said.
Horn was also able to work productively with Democrats, Ransdell said.
""He's always managed to stand above the partisan fray. He'll work with his party folks when he needs to. But he also knows how to cooperate with his colleagues across the aisle to get things done,'' Ransdell said.
Horn also stood out for his refusal to take contributions from political action committees. His campaigns were family affairs, run by his son, Steve Horn Jr.
Horn said he is troubled by the extent to which money has come to dominate politics and policy.
""They say, "Oh well, that's democracy.' The heck it is,'' he said, noting his support for legislation designed to choke off big ""soft money'' contributions to the political parties.
A former professor and president of California State University at Long Beach, Horn considers himself a student of American government. He has written three books on the subject.
During his five terms in office, he was a notorious scribbler, filling countless note pads.
""He was always a thoughtful member,'' Ransdell said. ""You'd see the results of those notes later on. He'd be on top of things and just know more than some of his colleagues.''
Some have speculated that those notes may be the basis for another book. But Horn dismissed such talk.
""I don't feel like going out and doing another one,'' he said, adding that he plans to devote most of his time in retirement to his family, including his wife, Nini, two children and a grandson.