Government

[Political influence]

The Searchlight stalwart

Harry Reid’s continuing a long legacy of Nevada politicians stepping up for the state’s interests

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Photo: Ryan Olbrysh

Back in march, Nevada Sen. Harry Reid lent his voice trying to urge a resolution to financial woes at MGM Mirage, which were threatening to sink its flagship CityCenter project. Some raised the question of whether Reid was overstepping his bounds, but in the history of Nevada senators, it appears there is no such thing.

“If you find anyone that is critical of our Sen. Reid or Sen. John Ensign, I’ll take ’em out back and give ’em a whupping,” says Stephen J. Cloobeck, chairman of Diamond Resorts International. Such critics are “certainly not Nevadans. We stick together in this state. We take care of each other. We’re all in the foxhole together …”

Last week, CityCenter was pulled back from the ledge when MGM and Dubai struck a new deal with lenders to finish financing the megaproject. Reid’s office was nonchalant about the senator speaking out. “He made calls asking lenders to give the project a fair shake,” says spokesman Jon Summers. “There were 10,000 jobs on the line. … He just wanted to make sure this was a project that was going to get serious consideration.”

And that, says Summers, was it. But others suggest Reid’s presence helped. “I think he has influenced the process,” says gaming analyst Bill Lerner, president of Union Gaming Corporation. “Not necessarily the end result, but the speed with which we see resolution.”

A few weeks ago, Reid issued another statement regarding the Fontainebleau, another giant, under-construction Strip hotel in trouble—in this case a lawsuit after the lenders pulled the plug on funding the last $800 million of the $3 billion casino.

“It is wrong, plain and simple, that the banks named in the lawsuit are trying to back out on their commitment to this important project,” Reid said in his statement. “When banks, especially ones that have received taxpayer dollars, make a commitment to finance a worthy project with thousands of existing jobs on the line, they have an obligation to keep that promise. I hope this can be resolved quickly, because thousands of families are counting on it, and so is Nevada’s economy.”

Summers says Reid, post-statement, will only be keeping an eye on the Fontainebleau. “Beyond that he’s going to monitor the situation and see where it goes from there.”

For Nevada politicians to flex this muscle is nothing new—if anything, Reid might struggle to keep up with the accomplishments of some of his predecessors, none more so than Pat McCarran. McCarran, as UNLV historian Eugene Moehring explains, persuaded Franklin Roosevelt to bring the Basic Magnesium plant to Henderson—it might have gone to California—and then, years later, convinced Harry Truman not to close it.

Clearly, McCarran wasn’t afraid to throw his weight around. He helped create the Civil Aeronautics Board, precursor to the FAA. College of Southern Nevada historian Michael Green describes one meeting between McCarran and the CAB. McCarran was trying to help Las Vegas-based Bonanza Airlines obtain new routes. So he asked the board members whether they had met with Bonanza. The answer was no. McCarran then told them that he had arranged for the board to discuss the matter, right then and there, before they met with him to chat about their budget—a clear indication that he expected them to award Bonanza new routes if they wanted the budget talks to go smoothly. “To some that is corrupt,” Green notes. “To me that is how a senator is supposed to operate.”

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A generation later, Senator Howard Cannon helped Southern Nevada build its first major straw into Lake Mead by championing the Southern Nevada Water Project Act in 1965—and using his ties to President Lyndon Johnson to get it passed. This allowed the region to really begin to tap Lake Mead for its 300,000-acre-foot allocation, which set the city on a pace to collect its first million residents. And in the early ’80s, Senator Paul Laxalt reputedly put a bug in the ear of President Ronald Reagan, to whom he was very close, to kill that day’s version of Yucca—a massive complex of movable MX missiles slated for eastern Nevada.

It remains to be seen whether Reid, publicly or behind the scenes, can help keep the Fontainebleau on track. But while Reid’s recent claim that he encouraged Barack Obama to run for president has a bit too much of a self-congratulatory tone to it, the majority leader seems to be following the example of his predecessors. “Traditionally in Nevada, your positions on national and international issues mattered a lot less than whether you took care of the home folks. That’s what Reid is trying to do,” says Green.

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