Sen. Harry Reid (D)
Elected: 1986, term expires 2010, 4th term.
Born: Dec. 2, 1939, Searchlight .
Education: S. UT St. Col., A.S. 1959, UT St. U., B.S. 1961, George Washington U., J.D. 1964, U. of NV, 1969-70.
Family: Married (Landra); 5 children.
Elected office: NV Assembly, 1968–70; NV lt. gov., 1970–74; U.S. House of Reps., 1982–86.
Professional Career: Practicing atty., 1969–82; Henderson City atty., 1964–66; Chmn., NV Gaming Comm., 1977–81.
Democrat Harry Reid is the Senate majority leader. He was first elected to the Senate in 1986, and before that, he served in the U.S. House. Reid grew up in Searchlight, Nev., in the scorching desert south of Las Vegas. It was a hard life. His father, a hard-rock miner, was an alcoholic who killed himself at age 58. His mother did laundry for a nearby bordello to keep the family afloat. Reid grew up in a small house without indoor plumbing, and hitchhiked 40 miles to high school in Henderson, where his civics teacher and boxing coach, Mike O’Callaghan, became his political mentor. As a young man, Reid was a middleweight boxer of some local renown, but he aspired to better himself through education. Henderson businessmen helped him pay for college, and he graduated from Southern Utah State, where he and his wife became Mormons. To put himself through law school at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., he worked nights as a Capitol Police officer. He likes to say, “I would rather dance than fight, but I know how to fight.” He returned to Henderson to practice law. At age 28, Reid was elected to the Nevada Assembly. In 1970, his mentor O’Callaghan was elected governor and Reid, running separately, was elected lieutenant governor. In 1974, Reid came within 624 votes of beating Republican Paul Laxalt in the race for senator, and two years later, he ran for mayor of Las Vegas and lost that election too. O’Callaghan named him to head the Nevada Gaming Commission from 1977 to 1981, a sensitive post overseeing the state’s top industry at a time when it was controlled by organized crime. Reid later recounted that his life was threatened and his car wired with a bomb. In 1982, when Nevada got two U.S. House seats for the first time and Rep. at-large Jim Santini ran for the Senate, Reid ran in the Las Vegas-based 1st District and won. As Reid was completing his second term in the House, Laxalt retired and Reid tried for the Senate seat again. His opponent turned out to be Santini, who had switched parties at the last minute and ran as a Republican. Reid won 50%-45%.
|Harry Reid (D)||494,805||(61%)||($7,040,588)|
|Richard Ziser (R)||284,640||(35%)||($647,500)|
|Harry Reid (D)||Unopposed|
Prior Winning Percentages: 1998 (48%), 1992 (51%), 1986 (50%), 1984 House (56%), 1982 House (58%)
Over the years, Reid has had a more moderate voting record than many Senate Democrats. He voted for banning “partial-birth” abortions and against resolutions endorsing Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortion. He co-sponsored the constitutional amendment to outlaw flag-burning. Reid was one of the few Senate Democrats to vote for the Persian Gulf War resolution in 1991, and he voted for the Iraq war resolution in 2002. He has consistently opposed environmental groups on mining issues and blocked attempts to impose higher fees on hard-rock miners. He has opposed most gun control measures. Reid has steered counter-terrorism money to Nevada and has worked to transform the old Nevada nuclear test site, with its hundreds of underground tunnels, into a $250 million center for training first responders to confront acts of terrorism. He has been a strong supporter of the gambling industry. When President Bill Clinton proposed a 4% gambling tax, Reid vowed, “I will become the most negative, the most irresponsible, the most obnoxious person of anyone in the Senate.” He effectively blocked a bill, backed by Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona and others, to prohibit betting on college and amateur sports, which is legal only in Nevada.
For two decades, the key federal issue for Nevada has been the proposed nuclear waste repository at Yucca Mountain. In the late 1980s, the federal government named the site as the top candidate for a permanent repository for waste from nuclear reactors that had been piling up at temporary sites in 39 states. Reid has opposed the repository at Yucca Mountain with every parliamentary and political tool at his command as senators from states with temporary sites have pressed hard for it. Clinton carried Nevada by narrow margins in 1992 and 1996 largely because he promised to veto the establishment of even a temporary site at Yucca Mountain. So Reid’s task was to assemble sufficient votes to prevent an override of Clinton’s veto, which he did consistently through 2000. In 2002, President George W. Bush, based on the recommendation of Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham, designated Yucca Mountain as the permanent site. The law provided for a veto by the governor, which could be overridden by majorities in both chambers of Congress. In April 2002, Republican Gov. Kenny Guinn issued his veto. In May 2002, the House cast a large majority for Yucca Mountain. Reid lobbied furiously for Democratic votes, while John Ensign, his 1998 opponent and now his Republican colleague, lobbied desperately for Republican votes. Reid argued that the site was geologically flawed and that transporting nuclear waste to it would be hazardous, especially after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Altogether, he got 34 Democrats and independent James Jeffords to vote his way. With the Bush administration lobbying in the other direction, Ensign could get only two other Republicans. The site was approved 60-39.
But for Reid, the fight was not over. Lawsuits were filed against the plan, and Reid, as the chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the Energy Department, blocked funding for the repository year after year. In November 2004, Reid, now the minority leader, negotiated with the Bush administration over judicial appointments and agreed to approve 175 Bush nominees in return for the appointment of his aide, Gregory Jaczko, to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which had to approve the site before it could go forward. In 2006, when he was chosen majority leader, Reid said he would use his power to control the Senate schedule to block the Yucca Mountain measure.
Reid’s rise to leader was set in motion when he won the post of minority whip in 1998. For the next six years, he was a constant presence on the floor, advancing his party’s causes and maintaining civil relations with GOP leaders. He played a key role in persuading Vermont’s Sen. Jeffords to leave the Republican Party in May 2001 and become an independent who caucused with the Democrats; that move effectively put the Democrats in the majority. When Republicans held all-night sessions in November 2003 to protest Democratic filibusters of nominees for Appellate Court judgeships, Reid retaliated by speaking for nine hours, reading from his book about his upbringing in Searchlight. In 2004, he campaigned for fellow Democrats and contributed generously to their political treasuries. When Democratic Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota lost his seat in a stunning upset, Reid had already lined up the votes he needed to be elected minority leader. (Republicans were back in control of the majority.) Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut was interested in the post but declined to run. Reid was not the Senate’s best orator and not much of a policy visionary, but his colleagues knew him as a crafty parliamentarian who would be a scrappy and effective defender of their interests. “I know my limitations,” said Reid, who became minority leader in 2005. “I haven’t gotten where I am by my good looks, my athletic ability, my great brain, (or) my oratorical skills.”
Reid worked deftly behind the scenes, giving up his committee seats to accommodate other Democrats and pledging to rely on committee chairmen on policy. He blocked nongermane amendments from bills. He staunchly opposed Bush’s proposal for private individual retirement accounts in Social Security, and the president’s efforts to get Democratic support went nowhere. “President Bush should forget about privatizing Social Security. It will not happen,” Reid said. “They are trying to destroy Social Security by giving this money to the fat cats on Wall Street, and I think it’s wrong.” The Republican National Committee blasted him in an e-mail as “chief Democratic obstructionist,” and pointed out that his son and a son-in-law were lobbyists, though both had let their lobbyist registrations drop. When Bush renominated several filibustered judicial appointees, Reid promised to filibuster them again and threatened to bring the business of the Senate to a halt if Republicans tried to change the rules by majority vote. But in May 2005, he acquiesced in the agreement of the bipartisan “Gang of 14” to allow some of the nominees to come to a vote. He voted to confirm John Roberts as chief justice but joined most Democrats in opposing the Supreme Court nomination of Samuel Alito. Reid sometimes undercut himself as a leader by resorting to indecorous comments or insults. He once called Bush a “loser” and a “liar,” Federal Reserve Board Chairman Alan Greenspan “a political hack,” and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas “an embarrassment.”
Reid has been vulnerable on the ethics front, although he has maintained that none of the issues raised against him over the years have had merit. After a 2003 Los Angeles Times story pointed out that his son and a son-in-law were lobbying in Washington for Nevada companies, Reid banned relatives from lobbying his office. He was a leading recipient of contributions from the Indian tribe clients of disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, and Republican Rep. Jon Porter of Nevada called on him to return the money. Reid refused and pointed out that he had always opposed expansion of Indian gambling, as anyone protecting Las Vegas’ interests would. From 2003 to 2005, Reid accepted free seats at Las Vegas boxing matches from the Nevada Athletic Commission. In December 2006, the Senate Ethics Committee said that he had violated no rule because the money came from a state government agency. In October 2006, it was reported that Reid had not disclosed a transaction on a land deal that netted him more than $1 million in 2004. Reid said that he had purchased the land in 1998 at market price, then sold it to a friend’s corporation in 2001 in return for a stake in that corporation. He got his share of the proceeds in 2004, he said, when the property was sold to a shopping center developer. Reid reported the 1998 and 2004 transactions and said he would revise his disclosure form to report the 2001 transaction as well.
In 2006, Democrats won the six seats they needed to regain the Senate majority and Reid ascended to majority leader. After the election, Reid deftly juggled committee and leadership posts, giving Michigan’s Debbie Stabenow a seat on the Finance Committee and giving Stabenow’s leadership job as conference secretary to Washington’s Patty Murray, who was considered better suited to the role. He reappointed New York’s Charles Schumer as head of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, and as a reward for Schumer’s work on successful Democratic campaigns in 2006, Reid also named him to the new leadership post of vice chairman of the Democratic Conference. In another move to increase resistance to Bush administration proposals, liberals Ben Cardin of Maryland and Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island got seats on the Judiciary Committee. Connecticut’s Joe Lieberman, whose vote would be crucial to keeping the majority, was given the chairmanship of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs committee even though he had been re-elected as an independent.
On other issues, Reid was often stymied by the Senate Republicans’ constant resort to filibusters. His efforts to place limitations on Bush’s handling of the Iraq war mostly fell short of the 60 votes required to shut off debate. And there seemed to be no preventing conservative Oklahoman Tom Coburn from blocking even seemingly acceptable bills from the Senate floor. The contrast to the more lockstep House under Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California was a source of some embarrassment to Senate Democrats. Reid also rushed to judgment with an announcement in 2008 that Illinois Democrat Roland Burris, appointed by Gov. Rod Blagojevich to an open Senate seat amid a “pay-to-play” scandal in the Blagojevich administration, would not be seated when he arrived at the Senate. Reid capitulated after leading Democrats said that Burris should be seated while Illinois authorities investigated the circumstances of his appointment. Reid misread the sentiments of his caucus in another highly publicized case, as well. In April 2009, he smoothed the way for Republican Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania to switch parties, bringing the Democrats within one vote of a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority. As part of the deal with Reid, Specter said, he would keep his seniority, putting him in line for a subcommittee or full committee chairmanship. But in an embarrassing rebuke to Reid, rank-and-file Senate Democrats refused to go along and stripped Specter of his seniority on committees.
Despite these setbacks, the electoral success of Senate candidates in 2006 and 2008 engendered enormous goodwill for Reid. With a Democratic majority in Congress, and the election of a Democratic president in 2008, he slipped into the role most comfortable for him, that of behind-the-scenes deal-maker. Reid won bipartisan support for tough new ethics and lobbying rules and expansion of the student loan program. In early 2009, he guided the new administration’s $787 billion economic stimulus bill to passage. (The bill happened to include funding for a high-speed bullet train between Las Vegas and Anaheim, Calif., that Reid has championed.) When the $700 billion bailout for the financial industry was in trouble in the House, Reid made several changes to the Senate bill to attract additional votes, including a tweak to the tax code to protect middle-income taxpayers from the alternative minimum tax. “Inaction is not an option,” Reid said at the time. “This is, I repeat, a crisis. We’ve got to get this done.” That and other modifications were popular with lawmakers in both parties in the House, and the bill ultimately passed. The Senate also approved an expansion of the State Children’s Health Insurance Program. Another happy outcome of the 2008 election for Reid was the new administration’s willingness to consider alternative locations to Yucca Mountain for a permanent nuclear waste repository.
Reid faced one serious challenge to his Senate seat, in 1998 when Republican Rep. John Ensign ran a well-financed campaign against him. Both Reid and Ensign, whose stepfather was head of the Mandalay Resort Group, one of the big Las Vegas casino operations, raised large amounts of money from the gambling industry. Reid spent $4.9 million and Ensign $3.5 million. After a nasty campaign, Reid prevailed by just 459 votes. Ensign called for a recount, and finally conceded on December 9, with Reid ahead by 428 votes. Two years later, Ensign was elected to Nevada’s other Senate seat. Despite the bitterness of the 1998 campaign, Reid and Ensign have worked together on many home-state projects.
In his 2004 re-election bid, Reid had a different sort of political problem. Nevada had so many newcomers, many of them Republicans, that few were familiar with his work in almost 40 years of public life. About 5,000 people were moving to the Las Vegas area every month—which meant that nearly 300,000 Nevadans in 2004 were not in the state during Reid’s1998 campaign. Some 436,000 Nevadans voted in 1998, when Reid faced Ensign; 830,000 would vote in November 2004, so about half of the voters (some 1998 voters died or dropped out) had never seen Reid’s name on a November ballot. For Reid, the solution was to preclude serious opposition from GOP Rep. Jim Gibbons or one of Nevada’s several Republican statewide officeholders by showing strong support from Las Vegas big hitters, who are unusually bipartisan and have been the motivating force in Nevada state politics. They supported the election of Democratic Gov. Bob Miller in 1990 but also that of Republican Gov. Guinn in 1998. Reid got early support from Guinn, former Reagan appointee Sig Rogich and gambling executives Terry Lanni and Mike Ensign. The Republican nominee, Richard Ziser, an evangelical Christian who led the drive to ban same-sex marriages on the 2000 and 2002 ballots, got little financial support in Nevada or from national Republicans. Reid won 61%-35%, carrying Las Vegas’ Clark County 65%-31% and Reno’s Washoe County 58%-38%.
As the parties looked ahead to the 2010 election, many Republicans expressed hope of toppling Reid in the same way that Daschle was defeated in 2004 at the pinnacle of his power. Reid and his supporters dismiss any parallel, pointing out that, in contrast to Daschle’s situation in South Dakota, Reid has rebuilt and invigorated the Democratic Party in Nevada. Reid makes regular visits back home, and there was little evidence that Nevada Republicans would produce the sort of threat to Reid that Republican John Thune posed to Daschle. Still, with Reid having to reintroduce himself to new Nevadans every six years, he could become a target in 2010.