Desert Companion

So what if he loses?


Illustration by Aaron McKinney

If Harry Reid is sent packing in November, Nevada will suffer — but not as much as you think


Editor's note: This piece, which originally ran in the Feb/March 2010 issue of Desert Companion, speculates on what might happen if Reid had lost his re-election to Republican challenger Sharron Angle. With the announcement of Reid's retirement, some of Hugh Jackson's observations are just as relevant today as they were five years ago.

Wake up and smell the clout, cry Democratic U.S. Sen. Harry Reid’s supporters. Numbering more than a few Republicans, they are sent into fits of apoplectic disbelief by the notion that Nevadans would even consider voting out a majority leader of the United States Senate.

Reid’s detractors — an electoral majority, if polls are accurate — counter that the senator is an icky liberal so out of touch with the government-hating thumpity-thump-thump of Nevada’s libertarian heartbeat that he simply must go, before he succeeds in transferring the entire means of production to the working class and ushering in the socialist revolution once and for all. Or words to that effect.

Not surprisingly, Reid’s fate has become a cause célèbre in the national political press, which has declared the Senate seat one of the most likely to switch parties in the 2010 elections. Why, just the other day, a reporter called me from the Big City to question me about Reid’s prospects. I was pleased to answer promptly.

Support comes from

I said I really don’t care all that much.

Make no mistake. Nary a day goes by without a few hundred thousand, or a few million, American dollars being designated for Nevada, thanks to Harry and The Clout. Under the heading “Delivering for Nevada,” Reid’s campaign website lists dozens of projects — water projects, energy projects, lots and lots of military stuff — that are federally funded in Nevada “thanks to Sen. Reid.”

Reid has been “delivering for Nevada” in countless other ways, too, from stopping Yucca Mountain, to securing tax breaks to promote renewable energy, to making sure Nevadans get to take a federal income tax deduction for paying state sales tax, to … well, I could go on and on, but really, Reid pays a bunch of people to do that for him, so let’s leave that to the professionals.

Suffice it to ask, what hope is there that a freshman Republican senator could ever deliver as much for Nevada as Reid can deliver now?

Actually, that’d be easy. If the Cornhusker Kickback and the Louisiana Purchase that punctuated the health care legislative wheeling and dealing are any indication, all a newbie Republican would have to do is vote with the Democrats on important bills, and Senate leadership will ladle favors on the newbie’s state in return. If of a mind to do so, a new Republican senator from Nevada with a reasonable amount of negotiating skills should be able to relocate most of the Pentagon to Pioche by the time she or he is up for re-election in 2016.

Alas, if elected, none of the 462 (at last count) Republicans vying to face Reid in November are likely to work across party lines, for any reason, because of The Socialism.

No, when it comes to Beltway influence, Nevada will never have it better than it does with Reid.

But wait! a Reid critic will say, index finger aloft for emphasis, Nevada ranked dead last in per capita funding from the stimulus bill, so Reid isn’t delivering after all!

And that gets straight to the heart of why I’m less than fascinated by Reid’s political fate.

As Reid’s campaign will explain (and as his critics know, or should), Nevada’s relatively paltry share of stimulus money, and its relatively poor ranking when it comes to federal funding generally, has very little to do with Reid, and everything to do with, well, Nevada.

Federal funding is often tied to state funding (in conjunction with the all-important census information, which is why you should be friendly when your local census taker knocks on the door). The less a state spends on, say, scientific research at universities, or health care and mental health services for the poor and indigent, the less money the state gets for those things from the federal government.

Whether measured on a per capita basis or as a portion of the state’s economy, Nevada spends less on state government than any state in the nation. And now the state is yet again slashing government spending — including spending on educational programs that are the prerequisite to attracting some form of economic activity that might be more sustainable than building new houses for people who build new houses for a living. Not content with an economy that is in tatters now, Nevada’s leaders, sanctioned by Nevada’s citizens, are dedicated to inflicting economic wretchedness on the state for years, if not generations, to come.

And yet Official Nevada — apparently because Nevadans want it so — refuses even to entertain the possibility that it should no longer be one of only five states without a broad-based business tax and one of only seven states with no personal income tax.

So, would Nevada suffer by casting aside a Senate majority leader? Yeah, almost assuredly.

But much more assuredly, the far more important issue for Nevada isn’t how much clout it has in the Beltway, but how much sense it has at home.

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