Political titan Harry Reid dies of cancer at 82

Political titan Harry Reid dies of cancer at 82
Nevada Senator Harry Reid met with Supreme Court nominee Merrick Garland, March 17, 2016 at the Capitol. Image: Senate Democrats. Republished under Creative Commons licensing.

The former McCarran International Airport Las Vegas was just recently changed to Harry Reid International Airport. The airport’s new namesake, former U.S. Senator Harry Reid, died yesterday after an extended battle with pancreatic cancer.

He was 82.

Reid was a political titan from Nevada. His youth was spent in the southern part of the state–Searchlight–being raised in a mining family.

He was an amateur boxer, became an attorney after attending colleges in Utah and even served in the U.S. Capitol Police force. 

His political career started in the late ‘60s when he was elected to the Nevada State Assembly. 

Reid had a lasting impact on all things Nevada. Not just while a U.S. senator, but all through his political career. He became a world-level leader after years of public service culminating in his election to the U.S. Senate in 1986, where he served until early 2017.

He was majority leader from 2006 until 2015 and became minority leader through his final term after the Senate flipped to the Republican party.

Reid was notoriously loathed in rural parts of the state – “elect anyone butt Harry Reid” signs littered rural counties for years, even after Reid was no longer in office – but celebrated in the Silver State’s urban centers.

He stood up for Nevada tribes and was instrumental in major water conservation efforts – Walker River water right buyouts and the Truckee River Operating Agreement, in particular. 

The senator was a major proponent of land conservation as well, including support for the Basin and Range and Gold Butte National Monuments. He repeatedly fought against Yucca Mountain nuclear waste storage.

Reid weathered political and ethical controversies throughout his career. Although a Democrat, he initially said he believed Roe v. Wade should be overturned but appeared to soften his stance on abortion later in his career.

He notably was chastized for referring to then president candidate Barack Obama in racist terms: “light-skinned” with “no Negro dialect” unless Obama wanted one. Reid swiftly apologized and said he misspoke.

Obama posted on Twitter in the wake of Reid’s passing. He shared a letter he wrote to Reid after he received news of Reid’s declining health.

“As different as we are, I think we both saw something of ourselves in each other – a couple of outsiders who had defied the odds and knew how to take a punch and care for the little guy,” Obama wrote. “And you know what, we made for a pretty good team. The world is better for what you’ve done. Not bad for a skinny, poor kid from Searchlight.”