By Rachael Rifkin
Steve Horn, a former congressmember who once served as president of Cal State Long Beach, was highly regarded for his fair-mindedness, honesty, dedication and work ethic. Steadfast against corruption, he preferred to run grassroots campaigns rather than take money from campaign contributors, and he made decisions based on what was best for his community and constituents, not his party. Horn passed away from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on Thursday, Feb. 17 at the age of 79.
“He had a tremendous sense of ethics,” said Horn’s son, Steve Horn, Jr. “In all his positions, ethics came first, and he expected the people who worked for him to adhere to the same standards.” Born John Stephen Horn on May 31, 1931, he grew up in San Juan Bautista, California.
“He grew up in the country with a well and a lot of fruit trees. During the Depression they had chickens. His neighbors would share food and other things,” said Nini Horn, Steve’s wife. “One of the things I loved about Steve was that he always had a lot of interests– music, theater, politics– and that started at an early age. His school had a wonderful music department. He played the French horn, which he had to borrow. I think he was also influenced by his parents, who were passionately interested in international politics. His mom was of Irish origin and his dad was of German origin, and they would have lively debates.”
Steve and Nini met in 1953 while they were both attending Stanford. She was a humanities major studying history, and he was planning to teach music. They married in 1954.
“He originally thought he was going to teach music or be a symphony conductor,” Nini said. “Then he wanted to be a city manager. He eventually settled on political science.”
Steve continued his education, earning a master’s degree in public administration at Harvard University and returning to Stanford for a doctorate in political science.
Between 1960 and 1970, Horn received fellowships and held analyst and teaching positions in Washington D.C. During those years, he helped work on the Medicare program, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“We originally went to Washington D.C. because Steve got a fellowship that was supposed to last nine months, and we ended up staying a decade,” Nini said.
A strong proponent of higher education, Horn became president of Cal State Long Beach in 1970. Under his leadership, the college established new academic programs (including an honors program, a senior citizen program, and the Disabled Student Resources Center) and reformed already existing programs. Horn was elected chairman of the American Association of State Colleges and Universities in 1985, and in 1986 a national study named him as one of the 100 most effective college presidents in the country.
“Our campus benefitted greatly from his leadership and vision,” said current Cal State Long Beach president F. King Alexander in a released statement. “Steve was responsible for establishing many programs that set the campus apart in terms of how students and the community were served…Cal State Long Beach is a stronger university for Steve Horn’s leadership.”
Always interested in government and politics, Horn decided to run for Congress. He lost the race to fellow Republican Dana Rohrabacher in 1988 and then tried again in 1991 after Congressional lines were redrawn.
Horn led a volunteer-driven campaign, which was often run out of his son’s apartment. This time he won the 38th District (which then included most of Long Beach and Lakewood, a small portion of San Pedro, including the Port of Los Angeles, and all of Bellflower, Downey, Paramount, and Signal Hill), one of the most Democratic in California.
During his five terms in office, he often broke ranks with his party. He used a bipartisan approach to reform campaign finance, create a working budget, and secure funding for the Alameda Corridor, the Los Angeles River Flood Control Project, and major projects at educational institutions. He also helped get Signal Hill its own postal code designation. In total, he sponsored 60 bills (eight of which were enacted) and co-sponsored 1,100.
Horn was active in the community as well. He chaired a regional United Way campaign, was a founding member and secretary of the Long Beach Economic Development Corporation and the Long Beach Economic Development Commission, vice chair of the Long Beach Chamber of Commerce, and a member of the Mayor’s Task Force to save the Long Beach Symphony.
Following a 2001 reapportionment, Horn announced his retirement. Today his former district, whose lines have been redrawn, is represented by Democrats Laura Richardson and Linda Sanchez.
Over the years, Horn has also served as vice chairman of the US Civil Rights Commission, chairman of the Subcommittee on Government Management of the Committee on Government Reform, and author of three books on government.
“He was a fascinating man with a wonderful, self-deprecating sense of humor,” Steve Horn Jr. said. “And he was very, very focused on helping people. I can’t tell you how many people have told me that something my dad said or did influenced their lives.”
Horn is survived by: his wife of 57 years, Nini Moore Horn; his son Steve Horn Jr. of Long Beach; daughter Marcia Horn of Phoenix; and a grandson.