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What’s the Problem with Steven Horsford? (And What’s the Matter with Us?)

Over the weekend, news broke of Rep. Steven Horsford (D-North Las Vegas) admitting to an extramarital sexual relationship after his ex-partner revealed various details of their relationship in a podcast and provided more details to a local newspaper. 

As has become a tradition in America, a “salacious sex scandal” has become yet another battle in the nation’s never-ending “culture war”. And as we may be seeing again, what’s getting lost in the partisan warfare and heated gossip is the question of what we’ll do to stop the rampant abuse of power.

So what do we know about Steven Horsford’s affairs? (And what don’t we know?)
Photo by Andrew Davey

Last Friday night the R-J published their interview with Gabriela Linder, the podcaster who revealed her past relationship with Rep. Steven Horsford on her show Mistress for Congress. So far Linder has denied interview requests from other news outlets, but she has claimed on her podcast and to the R-J that they began their relationship in 2009, when she was an intern for then U.S. Senator Harry Reid (D) and he was a state senator. She then described how she and Horsford continued to contact each other after their first affair concluded in 2011, then entered into a second affair from 2017 to 2019.

Since Steven Horsford himself admitted in a statement to the R-J and to the Nevada Independent that he indeed had this intermittent sexual relationship with Gabriela Linder, this part of Linder’s story is not in dispute. What Horsford is disputing, however, is Linder’s claim that Horsford provided her with financial support. Horsford has since denied that he ever directed any state or federal government resources her way, and we’ve yet to find any evidence to corroborate Linder’s claim.

In the absence of critical facts, rumors have abounded. And in the absence of any commonly held set of ethical standards, we’re instead getting the usual back-and-forth “gotcha games”.

They’re very much with sin, so why are they still throwing stones?
Photo by Andrew Davey

According to the Bible’s New Testament (and more specifically, John, Chapter 8), a group of ministers confronted Jesus with a woman accused of an extramarital affair and asked if he agreed with the Old Testament’s guidance that adulterers be stoned to death. Jesus’ response? “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” The ministers then walked away, and Jesus soon let the woman go after saying, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more.”

I can’t help but think of this amidst the oh-so-predictable chorus of Republican politicians and pundits demanding the political stoning of Steven Horsford. As of May 2020, at least 24 women have accused President Donald Trump of sexual assault and/or harassment. One of the more recent women to come forward, author E. Jean Carroll, is demanding a sample of Trump’s DNA to finish their testing and analysis of “unidentified male DNA” on the dress Caroll was wearing on the day she says Trump assaulted her in a Bergdorf Goodman dressing room.

Donald Trump
Photo by Andrew Davey

Another of the women to briefly come forward, a woman who briefly sued Trump under the pseudonyms “Jane Doe” and “Katie Johnson”, has never even had a chance to fully tell her story of Trump assaulting her as a 13-year-old girl. She mysteriously dropped her suit in the final days before the 2016 general election. And even though new reporting on Jeffrey Epstein’s human trafficking empire seemingly confirmed key details of this woman’s story last year, as she accused Trump of assaulting her at Epstein’s New York City townhouse in 1994, even her former attorney has completely lost contact with “Katie Johnson” as of October 2019.

Despite all this evidence of not just extramarital affairs (such as Trump possibly manipulating coverage of his own burgeoning relationship with Marla Maples in 1990), but actual criminal assault and unethical harassment, Republicans near and far continue to sing Trump’s praises. Many of these same Republicans here in Nevada are now demanding Steven Horsford’s resignation and a House investigation. I’d have more reasons to actually care about Republicans’ huffing and puffing over Horsford if they were to apply the same standard to Trump.

Take notes, American left: Two (or more) wrongs still don’t make a right.
Photo by Bret Simmons, licensed under Creative Commons, and made available by Flickr and the University of Nevada, Reno

Just because Republicans are in the wrong doesn’t automatically mean Democrats are in the right. After all, this is the exact same Congressional District (NV-04) where voters had to learn about then Rep. Ruben Kihuen’s (D-Las Vegas) extensive history of sexual harassment. Even after he handed over this Congressional seat to Horsford, Kihuen tried to revive his political career with a run for the Las Vegas City Council and a brazen attempt to rewrite his troublesome history as just “flirting”.

And as we’ve discussed for the last two years, we continue to see prominent Democratic women like U.S. Senators Kirsten Gillibrand (D-New York), Kamala Harris (D-California), and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) punished for all sorts of superficial and/or fictious “crimes” while their male colleagues and rivals boast about “electability” and rewrite history. Even when we move closer to home, Nevada Democratic women like Rep. Dina Titus (D-Las Vegas) and former Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani (D) have had to fight like hell to climb the political ladder while various middling men (such as Kihuen) benefitted from concierge service and helicopter rides to the top.

If Steven Horsford manages to survive this scandal relatively unscathed, he can thank the kinds of “Democratic insiders” who continue to “rehabilitate the reputation” of disgraced politicians like former Senator Al Franken (D-Minnesota) while chastising women like former Assembly Member Lucy Flores (D) for daring to say they didn’t appreciate former Vice President Joe Biden’s unwanted touching.

And now, the increasingly vexing case of Joe Biden and Tara Reade
Joe Biden
Photo by Andrew Davey

For nearly four years, America has had to grapple with the new challenges to the old “societal norms” that have come to define the #MeToo era. When does an accusation become “credible”? Which sins do we classify as “forgivable”? And what do we now consider “acceptable”?

Circling back to Joe Biden, these are the kinds of questions that we must (again) grapple with regarding former staffer Tara Reade’s recent claim that Biden sexually assaulted her in 1993. As hard as it is for me to mouth the words, “I don’t believe Tara Reade,” Vox’s Laura McGann and PBS NewsHour’s Lisa Desjardins and Daniel Bush have conducted thorough investigations that make Reade’s story look and sound less credible than I originally assumed. 

Even if Biden has been completely honest in insisting he never crossed any legal or ethical boundaries with Reade, we still have the more credible accounts of inappropriate conduct that initially, seemingly lent credibility to Reade’s story. Especially once we put aside Reade’s credibility-challenged accusation, Biden’s prior habit of awkward touching pales in comparison to the 24 accusations of sexual assault and/or harassment facing Trump. And yet, we must ask ourselves and each other: Has Trump’s brazen misogyny lowered our standards so severely that we’ll tolerate any immoral and/or unethical behavior so long as there’s no police report?

And finally, here’s why Steven Horsford’s leaving his constituents in such a painful bind.
Photo by Andrew Davey

As long as there’s no evidence of any crime committed and as long as we’re left wondering how exactly Horsford abused his power over Linder, Steven Horsford’s constituents are caught in an awkward position. Should voters base their decision to keep him in office on Dr. Sonya Horsford’s decision on whether to keep their marriage? As long as there’s no criminal activity, should voters simply judge Steven Horsford on his public record and not his private conduct? And as long as Republicans continue to rally around Trump, should Democratic voters toss aside any and all moral and ethical questions here because Trump and his cohorts are completely amoral?

Sadly, this is the reality we must confront in 2020. Once upon a time, a story like this would have dropped jaws and turned heads. Nowadays, we just call this “Monday”.

Dr. Sonja Horsford certainly deserves better. Gabriela Linder probably deserves better. NV-04 constituents should expect better. Nevada Democrats should demand better. But sadly in this Trump-tainted America of 2020, this is the difficult decision they’re all left with.

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