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Edgy Interview: Bill Horn

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I don’t yell “fake news” often. Reporters have a job to do and tend to do it well. But the impression many get of Bill Horn from the media can be skewed. As the Edgy Interview often reveals, there’s another beautiful and uplifting side to our subject. In this interview, the longtime County Supervisor from North San Diego County talks movingly about his work to develop schools for impoverished Ugandan kids. Prepare to have your preconceptions of Bill challenged.

Bill Horn in 1968

When you were a child, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I wanted to be a fighter pilot. I thought that would be so cool. I earned my pilot’s license by the time I was 14-year-old and joined the Army Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC) in high school. But I learned that my eyesight wasn’t good enough to qualify to be a fighter pilot. I double majored in history and accounting at San Diego State University and enlisted in the Marine Corps after graduation so I could go to Officers Candidate School (OCS). In January 1967, I began my military service in OCS on the Marine Corps Base at Quantico. Though I never flew a fighter jet, one of the greatest honors in my life was to command 270 Marines in combat for one year during the Vietnam War in 1968. I was 24 years old. When I finally made it home, I was a Captain with decorations that included a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and four Vietnam Crosses of Gallantry.

Who shaped your thinking most on politics?

I would have to say my father is the one who most influenced my political views. He wasn’t a political man, but he taught me to be a quality person by example. He was a conservative, humble and a hard worker. He took pride in himself and his job. He had his coffee every morning and walked to work in his freshly pressed white shirt. My dad taught me responsibility, to put others before myself and stick to my guns and fight for what’s right. He taught me to be honest, to take control of my future and not to abandon people along the way. My father lived within his means. He was adamant about meeting all of his financial obligations and providing for his family. My father’s ideals were right in line with our Governor of California at the time, Ronald Reagan.

Tell us about the schools you’ve established in Uganda and how they came about.

In 2014, I met a humble young man from Uganda named Moses. While we were talking, he described the severe poverty and large number of orphans in his village in the Buikwe District of Uganda. Many of the village parents had died of AIDS and left children to fend for themselves. He told me that he and his wife had paid for six children from their village to go to a Christian school so they could have a better life.

His story moved my heart so deeply that I decided to go see for myself if this was true. I traveled to Uganda in 2015 and after touring the tiny jungle village, I purchased 10 acres to build an elementary school. I secured a charter with the local government and we agreed that I would build the school but I would also be in control of the curriculum to ensure it was a Christian school. We hired villagers for the construction and named the school “Emmaus” after the biblical story of Jesus’ appearance on the road to Emmaus.

In 2016, I purchased 19 additional acres to build a high school so my students could continue their education. The high school currently offers classes up to tenth grade.

This year, one of my 7th grade students took a state standardized test and received the highest score in math in the entire Buikwe District! This child lives in a mud hut in the jungle!

We are adding more classrooms to accommodate students up to 12th grade and are also building a science lab which should be done by the end of December. I have 735 students enrolled in the elementary school, 150 students attending the high school and 42 Ugandan teachers. I’m joining my teachers on a 3-day retreat this winter on Lake Victoria.

Along with the schools, I was given permission to drill wells in the village to provide clean water. There are three wells now and all of the water has been tested and is safe for consumption. We built a corn processing plant with the hope that one day it will sustain the entire school operation. It provides 18 jobs for local workers and they process about 20-30 tons a week.

It has been thrilling and humbling to see how much life has changed for the children in this jungle village. Poverty and starvation are slowly giving way to education and hope. My work in Uganda has been one of the greatest blessings in my life.

If you could go back in time, which former President would you like to chat with and what’s the topic?

I’d like to talk to several former presidents; George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Ulysses S. Grant and Dwight Eisenhower top my list. If I had to choose one I guess I would say George Washington. I am most interested in his faith and how he knew what the Lord wanted him to do in life. I want to know how he used his faith to navigate his most challenging decisions as a leader and Founding Father of the United States of America. George Washington didn’t win huge victories on the battlefield but he was steadfast in his discipline and beliefs and I think the Lord blessed him and that ultimately led to his success.

If you could repeal one law, which would it be and why?

I don’t believe abortion should be legalized. I think it is so wrong to end a life like that… it’s just too valuable. Life is a gift, a privilege. Who are you to decide to take that away from someone? There are other options. No one needs to resort to ending a life. That child deserves a chance to live.

What was your favorite musical genre as a teenager and what are you listening to now?

My favorite music as a teen would have to be surf-style pop music. I loved the Beach Boys and I spent a lot of time surfing at the beach. I also liked the Kingston Trio. I learned to play guitar by ear so I would listen to their songs over and over. I also liked Elvis, Louis Armstrong, The Beatles and also Spanish Flamenco music. I loved the guitar work in the songs and would try to copy them. I also enjoy Swing music. I’m a good dancer because I had to practice a lot with my sister. Most guys my age wouldn’t dance but I would always go out there and dance. I would always get the girls too because I knew my way around a dance floor.

Now, the only time I really listen to music is during the Christmas season. I like listening to Christmas music. Other than that, when I have the radio on it is tuned in to talk radio.

Tell us about your artistic talent(s).

As I mentioned, I am a really good Swing dancer and I will still hit the dance floor if I get the chance.

I learned to play the guitar and also the drums. I never took formal lessons, but I got pretty good at mimicking what I heard.

After serving time in combat in Vietnam, I had a tough time with flashbacks and nightmares. I learned how to paint as part of my therapy and I have a couple of my pieces on the walls at home.

First concert you attended and how did it make you feel?

I can’t remember ever really going to concerts. I worked a lot, surfed a lot and I went to dances. I remember thinking concerts were a waste of money and time after my sister went to go see Ricky Nelson.  She was a sobbing mess and I never understood it.

Favorite cuisine and where do you get it? 

My favorite food is probably ribs from Phil’s BBQ or Mike’s BBQ. I also really enjoy Mexican food and Miguel’s white sauce is hard to beat.

What three things are must-haves in your fridge at all times?

I like to have cold bottles of water in my fridge. I also like string cheese and grapes. They’re my easy go-to snacks. And I like to have fresh strawberries and blueberries in my fridge along with some cool whip. Together they make the perfect dessert.

Favorite sport and why?

I like to watch football and I like to watch baseball. It works out perfectly because they’re different seasons. I was a soccer coach for 14 years. I’ll watch that sometimes, but it’s not my favorite. When it comes to participation, my favorite sports are definitely snow skiing and surfing. I used to ski nearly every weekend during snow season when I was a teenager. Through my mom’s work, I was able to stay free at a chalet in Mammoth. I could get free transportation up there and discounted lift tickets. By the time I went to college, I was on the ski team at SDSU as a downhill racer. When it wasn’t ski season I was surfing every chance I had at the end of Law Street in Pacific Beach.

What’s the best professional advice you’ve received and who gave it to you?

When I left the Marine Corps I worked in grocery for a short time and then I got a job with a large real estate company. I managed commercial property, learned about money, finances, construction, earned my license to broker and general contracting license. I was eager to learn and one of the owners really took me under his wing. I reported to him weekly and we would go over the company portfolio together and discuss new orders. He taught me basic principles on how to run a successful business and to grow my net worth. I learned budgeting skills, the importance of not over-spending, to keep an eye on the future and seek out opportunities. I watched him invest so that his money made money even when he wasn’t at work. I wanted my money to do the same. Instead of taking salary increases, I negotiated a percentage of each project and began to grow equity. I then consolidated and reinvested so that I wasn’t getting taxed on that portion of my income like I was on my standard income. His sharp mind for business and his willingness to teach me helped mold my career path and became the foundation for my success.

Tell us a good story from your time on the County Board of Supervisors.

I was elected to the Board of Supervisors in 1995 and at my very first Board meeting we were asked to vote on whether the County should declare bankruptcy! Orange County had just declared bankruptcy a few weeks prior and the pressure was on. I remember thinking; my father would not approve. There has to be another way. I voted “no.” In 1997, I pushed hard for the County to sell the trash system for $184 million and to use that money to pay off bond debt. It was the catalyst that finally pulled the County out of a financial crisis. Today the County has earned a national reputation as one of the best managed and fiscally secure Counties in America.

What do you see yourself doing in 10 years?

I see myself running my hotels in Solvang, managing my apartment buildings, rental properties and businesses. I will continue my work in Africa. Maybe I’ll look for another little village 100 miles away and start the process all over again. Knowledge is power and I want these children to have a chance at a real future. I want them to know there is a God in heaven who loves them and to learn about the scriptures. I want them to use their education to change their nation and to teach others to love their neighbors. In our country we value our freedom and liberty. These children from this tiny jungle village can have that too one day. Maybe they will be the ones to finally change their circumstance. I’m living proof that Jesus uses imperfect people to do great things.

What do you consider to be your greatest accomplishment?

I think my greatest accomplishment is my family. My wife Kathy and I have three incredible children: Julie, Angie and Geoff. They have families of their own and I now have eight grandchildren. Kathy and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary and I am retiring from my position as San Diego County Supervisor after 24 years in office. I look forward to spending more time with my family, traveling, reading, restoring more cars, and finishing my model railroad.

I am also very proud of my service in the Marine Corps. I was young. I had to learn fast how to be in charge in combat in the unfamiliar jungles of Vietnam. The stakes were high and I felt the weight of that responsibility. I had to learn to supervise, delegate, be decisive, troubleshoot, stay confident, mask fear and protect my men. The Marine Corps trained me on all counts and made me the person I am today. It changed my life and led me to the Lord at the age of 27. I became a Christian and suddenly my life had new direction and purpose. I will never forget the friends I lost and I will always be grateful to our service members, veterans and their families. Semper Fidelis and God Bless.

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