Thursday, Nov. 9, 2006 | 7:07 a.m.
SEARCHLIGHT - They're still talking about that day 12 years ago when Harry Reid, the local boy who became a member of the United States Senate, addressed the student body of the town's elementary school that bears his name.
Reid passionately told the children: "Don't let anyone ever tell you that because you are from a small school in a small town that you cannot grow up and become anything you want to be."
Maybe even U.S. Senate majority leader, one of the most powerful legislators in the land.
That likely will be the next title for Reid, who grew up in a ramshackle house with no indoor toilets in this tiny Southern Nevada mountain village, population 800-and-change, 49 miles southeast of Henderson.
If Virginia validates the unofficial results, Democrats will seize the Senate majority and Reid, 66, seems destined to remain their leader. Most residents of Reid's birthplace said Wednesday they are proud to call Reid their friend and neighbor.
"I first met Harry Reid when he was a skinny lawyer," Ruth Watts, 87, said. "He always had strong roots here and still does. He and his wife, Landra, came to the senior center recently for one of our bazaars. They wore overalls. Harry bought an afghan."
Mary Ann Meyers McInnis, a grade school classmate of Reid's, said that even back in the day, he showed good leadership skills.
"He was level-headed and always seemed headed in the right direction," said McInnis a bartender who, like many of the town's longtime residents, called Reid "Pinky" - a childhood nickname for his skin's hue. "I am impressed by what he has accomplished."
Not everyone in Searchlight sings Reid's praises.
"I've never voted for him," said Clare Moran, a longtime local resident - and Republican.
Searchlight is bisected by a one-mile stretch of U.S. 95 from the town's community church on the north end of town to a McDonald's on the south. Parked in between is a police car with a uniformed mannequin behind the wheel, enforcing the posted 25 mph limit with comic deceit.
Verlie Doing, longtime owner of the Searchlight Nugget in the heart of the town, credits Searchlight for molding Reid.
"Harry loves walking through the hills here to clear his mind. As a youngster he would walk for hours and come home where his mom, Inez, made him a big pot of pinto beans."
Reid's parents did not live to see his meteoric rise in politics.
Reid's father, Harry, was a poor rock miner who committed suicide when Reid was 33. Inez died six years later in 1978. They are buried side by side in the family plot at the town's 100-year-old, sage-lined cemetery east of town.
Inez's grave was adorned Wednesday with plastic red roses, white quartz rock and rusted bailing wire in the shape of a heart. The tiny handprint of Reid's son Josh is embossed atop her concrete headstone.
Eight years after Inez's death, Reid was elected to the Senate. He was re-elected to a fourth term in 2004 and became Senate Democratic leader that year.
Former Searchlight Town Board Chairwoman Judy Hill, who resides in a rustic home on Surprise Street, a short distance from the bait shop on Cottonwood Road, recalled that when Reid was selected minority leader, the usually quiet town was crawling with reporters.
They'll probably return, she said, now that Pinky - who was home over the weekend - will become the big man on Capitol Hill.
"All I can say is if you are from Searchlight and you are not ecstatically proud of how a hometown guy can come so far and accomplish so much, then something is wrong with you," Hill said.
Ed Koch can be reached at 259-4090 or at [email protected]