The Legacy Of Sen. Harry Reid


J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

Harry Reid, the former boxer, looks battered and bruised after an exercising accident in January. The long-time senator announced last week that he was retiring. What will his legacy be.

Republicans won’t have Senator Harry Reid to kick around anymore.

And Nevadans won’t have Reid to bring home the pork, or to protect the state.

Over his 30-plus years in Congress, U.S. Senator Harry Reid, a boxer in his youth, collected armies of enemies but an equal amount of supporters.

Just saying “Harry Reid” evokes emotional reaction from most Nevadans.

When he announced last week he wouldn’t run again for Senate, his haters heaped on more hate. But even long-time rivals like Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R – Kentucky praised him for his “determined focus.”

Supporters lamented what it would mean for Nevada, whose claim to fame is gambling, an industry sniffed at by other states.

But while he led Democratic senators, he pushed through the president’s health care bill and Wall Street reform. Who really is Harry Reid and what will the state lose or gain from his departure?

Former Nevada Governor and Democratic Senator Richard Bryan said on the surface the senator may not possess the things associated with a successful politician like being a great public speaker and leading-man looks but what he did possess was a lot more important.

Support comes from

 “Number one he’s very smart. I think even his critics would acknowledge that. Number two he is hard working. He’s not just thinking about next week, he’s thinking down the road. So he’s strategic in his thinking,” Bryan said.

Bryan also described Reid as unbelievable tough, but not a threatening way. Bryan said he worked with the Senate Minority Leader for years, but never heard him raise his voice. However, he didn’t shy away from letting people know he was unhappy with something and made it clear that payback was coming.

“He has the memory of a legislative elephant. He never forgets,” Bryan said.

UNLV history professor Michael Green told KNPR’s State of Nevada that Reid’s greatest strength was his knowledge of how power worked in the Senate.

“Power in the U.S. Senate, which is vital to a small state, and Reid having and knowing how to use that power has served Nevada,” Green said.

Green said Reid is among the list of long-time senators from Nevada that protected the state’s interests in Washington, D.C. He believes the state is about to get a civics lesson in what happens when it loses a powerful ally in Congress.

“Nevada is in for a surprise in this regard,” Green said.

Green believes that although former President Bill Clinton and current President Barack Obama may be against the nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain, they may not have been as opposed if they didn’t know that they would have lost Reid as a supporter on Capitol Hill.

“Very often it is not what an elected official does, but what he or she does not do. Or keeps from happening,” Green said.  

 Bryan believes if the infamous Screw Nevada Bill, which designated Nevada as the home for nuclear waste, had been introduced during Reid’s tenure of power it wouldn’t have gone very far.

“Had that bill come up in the current environment that bill would not have passed,” Bryan said.

Beyond the power in Washington, Bryan said Reid was influential in getting the Democratic Party in Nevada organized. Bryan said the party structure and Democrats in office would often be at odds, until Reid stepped in to change that.

“He made the Democrats an effective tool for people running for election,” Bryan said.

Green said Reid’s legacy includes environmental efforts like the Great Basin National Park, protection of Gold Butte and the creation of the Tule Springs National Monument. However, he also supported efforts by the mining industry, which put him at odds with conservation groups.

In the end, Bryan believes Senator Reid may be criticized for his style and his often unfiltered statements, but he will be remembered for the power he wielded for his state.  

“Sen. Reid understands power and he knows how to use it and he’s effective in using it,” Bryan said, “He was his own man.”



Richard Bryan, former U.S. Senator and Nevada governor; Michael Green, history professor, UNLV

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