The era of President Donald Trump has begun and that signals a big change in America.
But another major change also occurred when U.S. Senator Harry retired after more than three decades of service in the Senate and a lifetime in public life.
Longtime Las Vegas journalist and KNPR contributor John L. Smith joins us to discuss the Senator from Searchlight, who talked softly but carried a big stick on behalf of Nevadans — not that all Nevadans appreciated his politics or personal style.
As a Nevadan, Harry Reid is a ‘man of the desert soil.’ He’s the son of a miner and came up from a very hard scrabble upbringing. His life is really an amazing American story to go from the isolated town of Searchlight to the halls of Washington and the highest places in government.
“He is certainly the most clout-heavy politician we’ve ever had”
What he brought to the state:
Nevada is a parched state, not just in terms of the amount water but also in terms of respect from the federal government. The state's largest industry was an "outlaw" industry for so long. But Reid was there as the industry evolved from that criminal reputation and expanded to almost every state in the country.
“Reid’s presence in the modern era… there’s no politician that comes close for not only bringing home the bacon, so to speak, but also for commanding the respect of an industry that frankly hasn’t always deserved it.”
On his time on the Gaming Commission:
Right now, being on the commission is a "feather in the cap" of a public servant or would-be politician. But at the time that Reid was on it, it was dangerous. His life was even threatened.
“Reid had a lot of tough calls to make. Made some calls that ticked off the government. Made some calls that ticked off the industry and some of the power players inside in those days”
On how the gaming industry viewed Reid now:
He wasn't the favorite of many executives, especially those with more right-leaning political views. But many aspects of the industry benefited from Reid's efforts in Washington, D.C.
"They also know without Reid they would have no one there to basically carry that big stick and stop intrusions into what they would consider over regulation of the industry.”
“He’s got some critics but an awful lot of fans”
And MGM Resorts International owes the former senator a debt it couldn't repay. His efforts helped the company immeasurably during the financial crisis.
Was he a senator just for Southern Nevada?
“There is no question that without Reid’s ability to bring home that bacon, the largesse, the road projects that have helped Nevada’s rural areas over the years and many other things. As much as they don’t want to vote for him and didn’t vote for him… they owe him an awful lot. He’s kept many of those towns alive.”
People in many rural areas of Nevada might argue about federal intrusion on land or overreaching of the government, but Reid helped many of those towns to get USDA grants to expand hospitals, build municipal pools and refurbish buildings.
On Reid changing over the years:
On some things, he hasn't changed much. He's no 'song and dance' man when it comes to speeches. He may not be an exciting speaker, but he is an effective one.
He did change his position on some issues and that may have pushed some of his old friends in his Mormon faith away, but it also made him new friends in the New Nevada.
He helped diversify the Democratic Party in Nevada.
“There is also a sign that a politician, even an entrenched one, can change over the years”
On Yucca Mountain:
This is the issue that Nevadans will want to watch to see if anything changes under this administration.
“I think this is going to be the real gut check for Dean Heller and also for Catherine Cortez Masto. She’s going to have to come up to speed very quickly.”
John L. Smith, contributor
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