Retired Congressman Steve Horn died on Feb. 17. He was 79.

The accolades poured in after he died, as was appropriate. He was a conservative Republican, yet I know some liberals who praised his service to his constituents. That is noteworthy–anyone can please their base. A politician who pleases constituents who voted against him has accomplished something.

Horn retired after serving the public from 1993 to 2003. I am not aware of any scandals that took place during his time in congress. Not every congressmen could say that.

I met him only once, back when I was a journalism student at Cal State Long Beach and he was president of CSULB. I suspect his best days were ahead of him. We crossed paths, however fleetingly, during a controversial period in his life.

He was a controversial figure at the university. Of course he was criticized by the faculty association–that came with the job. He had his share of critics among the students. There were two newspapers on campus, the Journalism Department’s Daily Forty-Niner (my paper) and the Associated Student government’s Union Newspaper (the campus tabloid).

The Union called him President for Life Horn. The Forty-Niner called him President Horn or simply “Horn” on second reference. Snide remarks have no place in straight reporting.

We crossed paths shortly before his administration came to an end.  There was a deficit, a payroll met with money borrowed from the state and a charge that he moved money from one account to another. Horn insisted he did nothing wrong. He argued with the press about the size of the deficit. The press quoted figures from state auditors and he quoted the figure that was borrowed to meet payroll.

I only remember one thing he said during our interview: “You ask good questions.”

I honestly believe it was a sincere compliment–but at the time I was a young reporter and I wondered if I wasn’t being conned. A drawback to this job is that you are so often targeted for manipulation that you come to suspect compliments and criticisms alike—and so cheat yourself out of opportunities to learn and grow.

I never saw him again.

I learned, over time, to appreciate the leadership he gave as CSULB president. Horn often took the position that he wasn’t trying to win a popularity contest. When he made a decision, you knew that Steve Horn was the man who made that decision. He usually took responsibility for his actions.

Later CSULB presidents made a point of being very public figures, but I remember interviewing university officials who said they had attended policy discussions—but couldn’t remember anyone being for or against the policies. Yet the policies were made and some of them were as unpopular as decisions made by Horn. Good luck, though, in cutting through the fog. Tracing a decision to its source became much harder after Steve Horn stepped down.

Even after he resigned, there was some question about when he would actually leave. When he finally did step down–to teach political science before making a run for congress–the Forty-Niner put out an honest-to-goodness “Extra!” Four or five of us pulled a 24 hour shift to put out a four-page paper chronicling his administration and (brief) fall.

I put together a chronology in my capacity as the newspaper librarian. I don’t remember what I wrote. I only remember that I was sick as a dog for the next two weeks. I paid little attention to his career after that. Young journalism students are hyper-focused on their own careers.

The thing I remember most about him, though, is that he didn’t whine about his fall. He just kept on going. He made it to congress and he apparently served quite well. An object lesson from a former teacher and a good one to take to heart.

For whatever it is worth, he’ll always be President Horn to me.

Last week I hestitated to write a story. I seldom do that.
I wondered: was I pursing the readers’ interests—or my own? Was I just looking for another byline?
Bylines are important. Essentially, my byline is my brand. That makes every byline valueable to me.
It can get mighty tempting to write a story for the sake of the byline instead of the sake of the reader.
However, that ultimately degrades not just the byline but the entire newspaper business.
The story was simple enough: Southern California Edison has, and will, spend money to provde water service to the residents of Catalina Island.
To cover costs, Edison is asking the California Public Utility Commission to either approve a water rate increase for the small population of the island or a small electricity rate increase for the company’s roughly 15 million electricity customers.
I learned about this while covering the Avalon City Council for the Catalina Islander (a sister newspaper of the Sun).
I immediately recognized that people living on the mainland—residents of the Sun Region—might want to know about this.
However, running the story on the mainland might create oposition to Edison’s second alternative rate increase. That might harm the nice people on the island.
Yet I also had an obligation to my mainland readers to let them know about something close to their lives: their electric bills.
Besides, the odds were that few people would actually read my story and fewer still would care enough to act on it. Roger Ebert has influence—I don’t.
So I wrote the story.
I asked my editor what he thought of it. He thought it was a decent story.
It appeared in the Thursday, Feb. 17 Sun.
Still I wonder: was I pursing the readers’ interests—or my own?

Naming a pet seems like a simple thing. One friend of mine always named his cat Samantha, in memory of his first cat.

My late father, however, took the prize for the most … unusual pet names.

Perhaps inspired by a girl dog we once knew by the name of Kitty—I swear I didn’t make that up—my father decided to name our first cat Doggie.

I didn’t even want a cat. However, when I looked at the little black furball and said we weren’t keeping her, she purred up at me.

I surrendered.

Doggie proved to be the first in a series of cats, including Mutt (named by my father) and Mouse (also named by my father).

When he found a stray male Australian shepherd, he wanted to name that dog Kitty in honor of the original Kitty.

My stepmother, perhaps concerned for the dignity of the animal, decreed the dog would be named Kayak. I’m not sure that was much of an improvement, but I thought better than to argue the point.

I may have aquired my father’s sense of humor. Some years back, I tried to start an aquarium. I started with guppies in a small tank. Jaws, Moby Dick and Ahab each died alone, victims of my incompetence. I think it was Ahab who got sucked into the air vent.

I was slightly more successful with bettas—the politically correct name for what used to be called Siamese fighting goldfish. I named two of them Life and Death. For the record: I kept them in separate tanks.

Life died first, presumably of natural causes.

I sometimes wonder if that’s an omen, but it was years ago so I’m reasonably certain I’m OK.

If you have an amusing pet story to tell—preferably with pictures—e-mail it to the Sun at