Beloved by many and hated by some, Reid is the most renowned politician in Nevada history.
Nevada’s longest-serving senator had a brilliant career. His list of accolades is long:
1968 – 1970: Nevada State Assembly
1971 – 1975: Lieutenant Governor
1977 – 1981: Nevada Gaming Commission
1983 – 1987: U.S. House of Representatives
1987 – 2017: U.S. Senate
2007 – 2015: Senate Majority Leader
Growing up in the small mining town of Searchlight, Nevada, in a shack without hot water or an indoor toilet, young Harry Reid knew poverty. His father worked as a rock miner and his mother laundered clothes for a brothel. As a teen, he often had to hitchhike 45 miles to Henderson to attend Basic High School. Reid went to college at Utah State University and eloped to marry his high school sweetheart Landra Gould. He attended George Washington University Law School and worked as a Capitol Policeman to support his family. Reid came to understand heartache at age 32 following his father’s suicide.
Harry Reid’s political mentor was his high school boxing coach, who later became Governor of Nevada, Mike O’Callahan. His greatest enemy – and he had many – was mobster Frank “Lefty” Rosenthal, the man who Robert De Niro portrayed in the movie Casino. In 1981, on the orders of Rosenthal (according to Reid) a bomb was placed in the engine of the Reid family station wagon, nearly killing wife Landra.
Throughout the 1980s and beyond, Reid actively opposed the shipment of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, about 100 miles north of Las Vegas, confirming his commitment to the environment of Nevada. Later, Reid’s liberal credentials expanded with his support of the Dream Act to assist undocumented teens and young adults, along with his commitment to the passage of Obama’s Affordable Care Act. In his later years, Reid promoted the investigation of UFOs and the release of government documents on the topic.
Next time you fly into Las Vegas, you will be landing at Harry Reid International Airport, which was renamed on December 14, 2021 – two weeks before his passing. Previously known as McCarran International Airport, the name change is the Nevada equivalent of dismantling statues to Confederate soldiers. Senator Pat McCarran (1933-1954) – an acknowledged racist and antisemite – actively supported the regime of Spain’s fascist dictator Francisco Franco. He despised immigrants and Jews, who he associated with communists. McCarran’s support of Joseph McCarthy is a shameful legacy for Nevada.
Senator Harry Reid (1939-2021) may have been a polarizing figure in Nevada and nationwide, but his reputation as a deal maker and a supporter of compromise should be a model for contemporary politicians.
I had the pleasure of meeting Senator Reid in the Capitol Building when I escorted the Nevada winners of the National History Day Competition in 2012.