Aaron Ford says his focus remains on helping Nevada families, as he runs for Nevada’s attorney general. In that spirit, his campaign’s main aim is decidedly unsexy: promising consumer protection.
Ford, who serves as Democratic majority leader in the Nevada state senate, would find that job as a consumer watchdog a natural fit. He is a partner at the Eglet Prince law firm, and does a lot of consumer protection work.
“If I am elected attorney general, my main focus will be on consumer protection. I think I bring a unique background to the issue, as I have been on both sides of the ‘v,’” Ford says. That ‘v’ is how he talks about the ‘versus’ – or adversarial part — of all legal cases.
Consumer protection is something most people don’t think about until they need it. But Ford’s own family had an incident with a fraudster, which reinforced Ford’s belief that the area should be a top priority for the person filling the role of Nevada AG.
“My mother-in-law gave my wife a phone call, when we were driving in the car together. My wife told me (that) my mother-in-law called her and said my oldest son (Avery) had been in a car accident,” Aaron Ford recalls.
The tale, of course, involved a plea for cash to the grandmother. “(The caller) said that he was in a car accident, and his nose was broken and was bleeding all over the place, and the police were on the scene. He said to my mother-in-law, his granny … that if she did not send him money right away, that they were going to take him to jail,” Aaron Ford recounts. “And so, my wife said, ‘Did you call Avery back?’ (Her mom) said, ‘Yeah, I called Avery, and he said it wasn’t him.’”
His own personal story is an example of the types of scams Ford promises to fight, if he is elected AG. “My mother-in-law was distraught and concerned. Seniors are being scammed by people all time,” Ford says. “So, taking on scammers who are attacking our seniors is something I will do for consumer protection.”
A Change of Plans at the AG’s Office
Aaron Ford notes some differences between how he would act as AG when compared to the outgoing attorney general, Adam Laxalt. The first thing Ford mentions is the Nevada gun Background Check Act, passed as Question 1 in 2016. Laxalt’s office opted not to enforce the new law, which required background checks for private party gun sales and transfers. Question 1 had squeaked out passage two years ago.
Ford’s Republican opponent for AG, Wes Duncan, will not enforce the act, either, Ford says. “I will not … ignore the will of the people, and give excuses for the reasons (the AG) is unable to enforce the will of the people.”
In August, a Clark County District Court handed down a decision to toss out a lawsuit to force Laxalt, and Nevada Gov. Brian Sandoval, to enforce the Background Check Act. The court ruling came after the state’s Department of Public Safety received a letter from the FBI stating that the bureau would not be conducting the background checks required by the new state law.
While that legal avenue is closed, due to the court ruling in August, Ford thinks there are other ways to implement the Background Check Act. “I think there are some other avenues that are appropriate for consideration,” Ford adds. “So, I will take on that issue and try to implement it. That is number one.”
Battling the Opioid Crisis — and Other Drug Epidemics
Of the “good things” Ford thinks Laxalt has done as AG, the Democratic candidate points to Nevada’s participation in law enforcement summits with other states. Foremost among these partnerships, Ford singles out the Nevada AG’s office participation in nationwide efforts “to combat the opioid crisis.”
“I think the opioid epidemic is something that we absolutely have to continue to address,” Ford says.
He praises Diversion Court, and hopes to grow programs like that one: “We have those (programs for those) who are in the criminal justice system, based on a drug addiction, with opioid or methamphetamines (use), or otherwise. We have drug courts that could use more resources and more support.”
Ford also gives credit to outpatient treatment programs such as Freedom House in Las Vegas, and Crossroads, which started in Washoe County.
“Both of these programs need funding, as our largest mental health facility is the Clark County Detention Center,” Ford opines. “You have to have programs for them, as opposed to throwing them in jail and throwing away the keys.”
Clearing up the Record
A lot has been made about a bill Ford introduced in 2017 legislative session, which critics said would have weakened the “Castle Doctrine.” That doctrine basically gives a person the right to defend themselves in their own home, even if it means using deadly force when necessary.
Critics claimed that legislation, introduced by Ford, would have allowed criminals – and criminals’ families – to sue the crime victims/homeowners. Those suits could be allowed, even when the victims’ use of deadly force was ruled justified, opponents of the legislation warned.
Ford says he never wanted to weaken the Castle Doctrine: “I support the Castle Doctrine. If someone is breaking into your home, you have every right to defend yourself,” he explains. “And that is the reason the bill was killed was because essentially (it was) a breakdown in communication. I never intended to address the Castle Doctrine.”
To rectify the problem, Ford killed his own bill.
Ford remains very concerned about gun violence. In addition to implementing the Background Check Act as the attorney general, Ford would also like to ban bump stocks. The latter was used by 1 October Las Vegas mass shooter Stephen Paddock.
Again, Ford says all his actions come down to protecting families. “I am the candidate who always puts families first.”
A Rags to Riches Story
Aaron Ford didn’t take the traditional path to becoming a lawyer, lawmaker and – now – candidate for attorney general of Nevada.
A Dallas native, now 46, Aaron Ford became “the man of the house” as a teen after his parents split up. His parents’ divorce meant that Aaron had to watch his younger siblings while his mother worked nights.
Money was tight. But his mother, Denise Claiborne, put Aaron in the Saturday-school program, Project Upward Bound, which helps students become the first in their families to go on to graduate college.
Aaron Ford later received a scholarship to Texas A&M University, where he would earn his bachelor’s degree. But while in college, Ford became a father at 21. After the relationship with his then-girlfriend ended, Ford took custody of his son Avery and raised him. Those times were tough, and this resulted in Ford seeking public assistance, including the food stamp program now known as the “SNAP.” Ford also received assistance in raising his son through the Woman Infants and Children program, or WIC, and Section 8 housing.
The road to where Ford is today was far from smooth. While in his 20s, he had a number of brushes with the law. Aaron’s life took a positive turn when he met his future wife, Berna, in 1994. The couple are now both lawyers, and are raising four boys, including the Fords’ nephew.
The Fords first landed in Las Vegas in 2000, and moved around for jobs. The couple permanently moved back to Las Vegas in 2007. Before joining Eglet Prince, Aaron Ford was a partner at the Snell & Wilmer law firm’s Las Vegas office. He previously also worked as a middle school math teacher.
In between, Aaron Ford continued to advance his education. He earned master’s degrees from both George Washington University in Washington, D.C., and from Ohio State University. While living in Columbus, Ohio, he also received his law degree and Ph.D from Ohio State.
In 2012, Ford was elected to the State Senate. By 2013, he was elected the State Senate’s minority leader, and he became the majority leader after the Democrats won back control in 2016.
As the November election nears, Ford goes back to his stated objective: Protecting families. He elaborates on how ensuring consumer protections will help in achieving that goal.
“How is this affecting Nevada families? Is (a practice) taking advantage of them and mistreating them? “The candidate asks. “I will work to protect Nevada families.”
Vegas Legal Magazine: Can you talk about your experience helping with your younger siblings as a teen, and later being a single dad at 21? How did that affect your later views of politics and life?
Aaron Ford: As a kid, things were tough. Even though my parents worked tirelessly at several jobs, we didn’t always know if the lights would come on the next day. Yet my mom always made sure I got the education I needed to succeed. She signed me up for Project Upward Bound, a program for low-income families and kids whose parents didn’t go to college. Thanks to her example and support, I went to Texas A&M University.
When I was a junior in college, I had a child. And when he was five months old, I became his sole caretaker. I lived in Section 8 housing, got on food stamps and Women, Infant and Children assistance. I considered dropping out of school. But with the help of my family, I was able to raise my son while I worked to finish college.
My life’s focus changed. I was determined more than ever to make sure my children didn’t grow up with the same circumstances I had as a kid. So I graduated, went on to get two master’s degrees, a law degree, and a Ph. D. I met my wife, we got married, and supported each other through graduate school, and had two more children and raised our nephew.
VLM: How did receiving some public assistance — for food — impact your views on social programs?
AF: Sometimes people just need a chance. I was one of those people, as are many Nevadans. If I didn’t have support when I needed it, I don’t know where I would be today. When I say that I understand what it’s like to struggle, I mean it. So, in the (Nevada) State Senate, I worked with my colleagues to make sure that every Nevada family who is willing to put in the work has a chance. We increased funding for public schools, expanded health care access, and fought for workers’ rights. I’m proud of the work we did to help hardworking Nevadans get ahead.
VLM: News accounts said you had been arrested four times, while in your 20s, in Texas. Is that accurate, or did some news accounts misstate that?
AF: That is accurate, I was arrested while in college for misdemeanor offenses of public intoxication, failure to appear, and failing to timely pay off a tire.
VLM: Would you like to clarify anything about your run-ins with the law while you were a young man?
AF: As a freshman in college, I was walking back to my dorm from the other side of campus one night after drinking alcoholic beverages with some friends. When campus police saw me, they arrested and charged me with public intoxication.
While also a college student, I’d frequently drive home to Dallas from College Station (Tex.) on the weekends. On one of those trips, I got a speeding ticket. I didn’t pay it, and a warrant for my arrest was issued for failure to appear.
Another time, I needed to drive home for the weekend to visit my son, who was living with my mother at the time, and I discovered my tire had a leak in it. So, I stopped at a tire shop to get it repaired. The leak couldn’t be patched, so I had to buy a new tire but couldn’t afford to pay the full price at the time.
The guy at the tire shop was gracious enough to put a tire on my car so I could drive to Dallas, and he would let me pay him off over time. I didn’t pay him quick enough, and he filed a complaint against me. I was charged with theft, and like a stupid college kid failed to appear for that charge. I eventually was able to pay for the tire, and the charges were ultimately dismissed.
VLM: Your opponent’s campaign has raised concerns about your arrests, and other run ins with the law, in terms of affecting your qualifications to serve as attorney general of Nevada. How would you respond to those comments? Do you feel these decades-old police incidents are relevant to serving as attorney general should you be elected?
AF: My background has informed who I am today. Those cracks you hear people falling through on occasions, I fell through them. I made some bad decisions. But after those missteps, I turned my life around. I became a single parent to my child, and became determined to be the best father I could be. I graduated from college and went on to get two masters, a law degree and a Ph.D.
Those mistakes I made in college did not prevent me from being admitted to the bar here in Nevada and Texas and becoming “Attorney of the Year,” “Top 40 Under 40,” and other awards for my legal work.
I’ve tried to raise my children to work hard and care about others. When they make a mistake, they should work to rectify that mistake and be better next time. I’ve tried to lead by example in my own life by being the best father, husband, and public servant I can be.
I do think it is interesting that our current (Nevada) attorney general, Adam Laxalt, was arrested in his youth for dangerous offenses, such as driving while intoxicated and assaulting a police officer. Yet, he’s supported by (Republican AG candidate) Wes Duncan and the Republican Attorneys General Association (RAGA), an association of which Laxalt is an actual member. Duncan even went to work for him. Yet both Duncan and RAGA are currently spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on advertisements claiming that my mistakes are disqualifying. The hypocrisy is stunning.
VLM: One news account stated that: “(Ford) had three different liens filed against him by the IRS for failing to pay over $185,000 in income taxes between 2010 and 2013, according to financial disclosures filed with the Nevada secretary of state.” Can you talk about how those liens came about, and how your resolved them?
AF: I have paid taxes every year. For a few years after the recession, my family ran into some financial difficulties. I took a paycut during that time period, and we also had significant medical bills due to one of my son’s having health problems during that time.
It was tough — we ended up having to short sell our home and move. Eventually we were able to get back on our feet. All of our taxes have been paid in full, with interest, and have been for over two years.
VLM: How would you ease the minds of Republican voters, and many independents, who may fear that electing Democrats will result in the erosion of the freedoms Nevadans now enjoy? (For example: Open-carry rights for legal gun owners and other rights that Californians don’t have now).
AF: Conservative politicians love to use scare tactics like this to stir up voters. The truth is that Democrats and Republicans in the Nevada state legislature have a long history of working together in a bipartisan manner.
VLM: What are your plans in terms of enforcing federal immigration laws and working with ICE?
AF: I would take the similar position of Republican (Brian) Gov. Sandoval — we don’t currently have an issue here in Nevada when it comes to the lack of enforcement of federal immigration laws. Ultimately, it is the federal government’s responsibility to enforce federal laws. But to be clear, when I am AG, there will be no sanctuary for any criminal. Anyone who commits a crime in Nevada will be brought to justice.
Valerie Miller is an award-winning, Las Vegas Valley-based writer who can be reached at (702) 683-3986 or email@example.com.