Guy W. Farmer: Harry Reid through the years
Even if we disagree with his politics, as I’ve done so frequently in recent years, we should recognize outgoing Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada’s Mr. Democrat, as a Silver State success story. That’s because “Pinky” Reid, who grew up poor in the hard-scrabble Southern Nevada mining town of Searchlight, fought and struggled to become the second most powerful Democrat in the nation — a remarkable achievement for someone from such a humble background.
To borrow from Nevada author Robert Laxalt, young Harry Reid was one of those stubborn, independent rural Nevadans who, like the sagebrush that dots our desert landscape, “thrived in unlikely places” to overcome a harsh environment.
It wouldn’t be much of a stretch to compare Reid’s life story with that of Abraham Lincoln, who came out of backwoods Illinois to become president of the United States. I’ve known Reid since I came to Nevada in the early 1960s and have followed his political career with great interest. I first met him when he was an ambitious young Clark County assemblyman who was elected lieutenant governor at the ripe old age of 30 in 1970.
He owed much of his early political career to his mentor and Henderson High School teacher, former Gov. Mike O’Callaghan, who was the most popular politician in 20th century Nevada. Although their styles were quite different — Reid always had sharper elbows — they both fought for what they believed in. In those days both of them were mainstream, states’ rights Nevada Democrats similar to the effective and articulate governor I worked for, Grant Sawyer.
In fact, Sawyer brought O’Callaghan to Carson City in order to keep an eye on the up-and-coming Southern Nevada Democrat. Reid later followed O’Callaghan to Carson City, serving four years as chairman of the Gaming Commission; in 1981 someone attached an explosive device to Reid’s wife’s car, and he blamed crooked gamblers. Reid was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982 and to the Senate in 1986.
I’ve been critical of Reid in recent years for pushing President Obama’s free-spending, big government agenda in Congress, but that doesn’t mean I don’t recognize Reid’s achievements on behalf of the state of Nevada. Although I disagree with the Obama/Reid national agenda, I give the senator due credit for funneling millions of federal dollars to the Silver State — not “free” money by any means, but we receive many more federal dollars than we send to Washington.
In my opinion, however, Reid’s main accomplishment during his 30 plus years in Washington has been to keep highly toxic nuclear waste out of our state. His implacable opposition to the proposed Yucca Mountain nuclear waste dump has been effective and unwavering despite the best lobbying efforts of the powerful nuclear energy industry. As the Las Vegas Sun opined last week, “His (Reid’s) everlasting success story will surely be his success in staring down the nuclear energy industry and keeping Nevada free of highly radioactive nuclear waste … Nothing better epitomizes his courage and commitment to Nevada …” Attaboy, Harry!
Aside from his political accomplishments, there’s a personal side to this story. Reid has helped many Nevadans through the years, including a friend of mine who lost her husband at an early age. The senator helped her get a state job and made sure her ambitious and intelligent daughter was admitted to law school.
I’m among the many Nevadans who will miss Reid when he will depart the Senate in Jan., 2017. I hope he’ll return to the Silver State, unlike former Governor and Senator Paul Laxalt, of Carson City, who remained in Washington to cash-in on his political connections.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal’s senior political columnist.