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Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid said he wants to be remembered as a kid who grew up in Searchlight and then fought hard for all the little kids growing up in the same hard scrabble way he did.
The long-time senator announced Friday he would not be seeking re-election after his term finishes in 22 months.
During an interview Friday morning with KNPR's State of Nevada, Reid said the decision to leave was not connected to the exercise injury he suffered in January.
"My health is good," Reid said. “It’s not because of my eye. I’m doing fine.”
He said he had been thinking about leaving office for a long time.
Just a few month's ago, Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid joined us on KNPR's State of Nevada, to talk about that injury he sustained.
Reid suffered broken bones in his face and four broken ribs when a resistance band broke throwing him backwards and hitting him in the face.
The injury spurred speculation that the 75-year-old Reid was slowing down, and would likely not seek re-election.
Instead, Reid told us he had plenty of vigor. He also "fitness-shamed America", saying he still had plenty of energy, and that his daily exercise regime included 250 sit ups a day.
But Friday news came that Reid will retire. In a pre-recorded video, Reid said he wanted to go out at the top of his game.
"I don't want to wind up being a pinch hitter," Reid said. “I want people to remember me for the first 34 years in Congress, not my last six years in Congress.”
Not Afraid of the Kochs
The senator brushed off the idea that he was not running again because he faced a tough election.
“Anytime that I have run, except for 1992, they have been tough elections, but I have won them. This is no different,” the senator said.
Numbers from the Pew Research Center show the senator with a favorable rating of 20 percent, the lowest among the other congressional leaders.
Reid said he wanted to make sure Democrats regain control of the Senate next year and that it would be "inappropriate" for him to soak up campaign resources when he could be focusing on putting the Democrats back in power.
He said races in many states including Maryland, California and Florida would all be expensive races for Democrats to win. He said Nevada will also be expensive but not as expensive now that he is not running.
During the interview, Reid said he could wage and win an election, even if his opponent was funded by the powerful and controversial Koch Brothers.
"I'm not afraid of the Koch Brothers," Reid said, "They're trying to buy the country and it’s not for sale."
A Surprise Guest
Dozens of callers phoned in to talk to Reid, including one surprise guest: President Barack Obama.
“I think that when the story is written and when all is told you’re going to have somebody that is has done more for Nevada and for this country than anybody that has ever been in the Senate,” the president said.
The president pointed out that the economic downturn and housing market crisis that hit Nevada hard would have been worse without Senator Reid.
"I'm going to miss him" the president said. But he said the two would work tirelessly over the next several months that they had in office.
For his turn, the senator said they worked together as friends and as people who loved their country.
Who is Next?
As for a successor as Senate Leader, Reid named Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-NY to be his replacement just hours after announcing his plans not to run.
Schumer has been Reid’s second in command in the senate for many years and ran the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
"Chuck Schumer is a brilliant man from New York and a tremendous asset to me," the senator said.
Reid said he believes in continuity of leadership instead of the fights that broke out over leadership during his early years in the senate.
And for his Senate seat, Reid said he talked to former Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto Friday about running for the office.
"If she runs, I'm going to help her," Reid said. "Whoever runs against Catherine will be a loser."
Reid said he worked with her father when he was the head of Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority and in local government. He believes with more people registered as Democrats in the state and the Republican-led State Legislature “making a farce of the process”, she will win his senate seat.
Yucca Mtn. Future
Reid has been a strong opponent of Yucca Mountain, the proposed nuclear waste repository 90 miles northwest of Las Vegas.
He noted during the interview that he had worked for years to stop the site from opening but there are questions about whether his departure will allow supporters to restart the project. That fear is something he disputes.
“Yucca Mountain is dead. There will never be a high-level nuclear repository,” Reid said.
He said restarting the project would take billions of dollars. The senior senator quickly dismissed comments by Representative Cresent Hardy R-NV, who suggested in an open letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal that the state have an “honest conversation” about the waste site.
“Cresent Hardy is a freshman in the House of Representatives. I was a freshman once. His ability to make a difference is non-existent,” Reid said.
He said Rep. Hardy is living in the past and it is unrealistic to believe Nevada is going to benefit from accepting waste.
Reid also believes he has the future power in Washington, D.C. on his side.
“One thing that we’ve kind of beaten around the bush here today is the next President of the United States is going to be Hillary Clinton. Her husband, Al Gore, Barack Obama, Joe Biden, Hillary Clinton have all said: No Yucca Mountain.”
Reid’s Legacy and His Future
The senator was not specific about his plans for the future, but he is optimistic about it.
“The experience I’ve developed over the past years in government will be of some use out there in the private sector some way,” Reid said.
He said he wasn’t interested in being a lobbyist and not interested in working for a big law firm but he is interested in doing something for Nevada and the country.
And back to his legacy, the senator wants to be remembered as a boy from a small, rural town that fought for the other kids in other tough situations.
“I want people to remember me as someone who never forgot where he came from and fought every day of his life to make sure that the kids, like Harry Reid, these little boys in Searchlight and these kids in these teaming big cities could look to me and say, ‘you know if Harry Reid, could do it, I could do it,’”
Reid was first elected to the Senate in 1986.
Harry Reid, US Senate Minority Leader