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January 19, 2018

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Harry Reid’s remarks to the Nevada Legislature

Harry Reid’s remarks as prepared for delivery to the Nevada Legislature on Feb. 22, 2011:

It’s great to be with you in this joint session. Of course, not everyone is here – but we can excuse Assemblywoman Diaz for her absence. We congratulate her on the birth of her new son last Sunday. It is always a pleasure to come home to Carson City. It brings back many memories to be in this chamber, which I voted to create as a very young Assemblyman. And it’s a distinct honor to speak with you today.

I’m grateful to the people of Nevada for allowing me to represent them for more than three decades in legislative halls and for more than a decade in other government capacities.

Many of you are serving your first terms in this body. Forty-two percent of our 42 Assemblymen are freshmen. An even greater proportion – nearly half – of our State Senators are new to the upper chamber. You’re just beginning to learn its rhythms and its hallways.

My first term here was a long time ago. Nixon was President and Nevada’s population wasn’t even a fifth of what is today. But I remember vividly the emotions and excitement of my first session, when we were in the Capitol building just across the mall. I know you are like me: humbled by the opportunity voters have given us to serve our state, and enthusiastic about the possibilities.

As we work together to move Nevada forward and get back on our feet, I will always do everything I can to support you. I know as well as you that Nevada is struggling at every level. Our cities and schools are struggling. Our statewide and national economic problems have done more than just hurt commerce – they’ve hurt confidence. We’ve had to make tough choices, and we’ll have to make many more. That’s what leadership is all about.

I wish you well and wish you wisdom as you make these decisions. And I hope you find your experience in this esteemed legislature as rewarding as I did – at least most of the time. Let me explain.

Long before Richard Bryan and I served together in the United States Senate, we served together as assemblymen here in Carson City. We were the only new Nevada legislators that session. We quickly became friends, and our friendship has lasted many decades.

I introduced a lot of bills in my first term. Really, a lot of bills. I am told I set the record for introducing the most legislation in a single session. One of those bills Senator Bryan and I introduced would crack down on firebombing – using weapons like Molotov cocktails. We thought this was a real winner of an idea.

The bill flew through the Assembly. It flew through committee in the Senate. We were more than a little proud of ourselves. Then it came to the Senate floor. Bryan and I went to watch the chairman of the Senate committee, Bill Farr, speak about it. When he wasn't a state Senator, Farr served as the fire chief in Sparks.

He went on and on about how great our firefighting bill was, and how smart those two young assemblymen named Reid and Bryan were. Bryan and I were elbowing each other, sitting there watching this and trying to contain our satisfaction. Then Senator Farr said, “In fact, this legislation is so good, we passed it last session.” So as you work to move Nevada ahead, heed my caution: be cautious.

That memory, however embarrassing, also taught me to pay a little closer attention to our history. Today, at this discouraging hour in our history, I’m comforted by the conviction that Nevada is a state full of fighters. We were battle born. Our principles and priorities keep us balanced as the challenges before us change. Our resolve to recover is as solid as the Sierras – and my belief in that determination is just as unmovable.

We’ve recovered in the past, and we’ll recover in the future. We’ve met crisis before, and we’ve prevailed. Winning is what we do. Winning is what we have to do.

But it also takes time. Our problems weren’t created in a day, and they won’t be solved overnight. We know how to bounce back, though. Our challenge is great, but it isn’t new. Nevada has always been a work in progress.

I remember standing in this very chamber as Lieutenant Governor and President of the Senate. I remember being here and thinking how much Nevada had changed from the one I first knew in Searchlight to the one I was representing here in Carson City. It was a different state – unrecognizable. In fact, each time I’ve had the honor of addressing this body, Nevada has been a different place.

The transformation to today has been even more profound. Some of that change has been positive and promising, and some less so. Our charge is to ensure the changes that will take shape in the next generation don’t take us backward. They must lead Nevada to a position of leadership and strength.

The last time I addressed this body, the stimulus was just one day old. President Obama had signed it into law only a few hours earlier. That emergency law has done a lot of good, and it prevented a lot of bad. It alone might not have cured every symptom we suffered, but it stabilized the patient.

I know the stimulus is an easy target. Those who don’t like the current White House rush to accuse it of all that is wrong in the world. But as the first resident of that White House, John Adams, said, “facts are stubborn things.” Yes, we have more work to do. But we do ourselves a disservice when we deny the good it has done for our state:

The stimulus cut taxes for more than a million Nevadans. It kept thousands of teachers in the classroom and other education workers on the job – $500 million worth. On Friday I announced that our most struggling schools will get grants, made possible by the stimulus, so that our students in even the weakest schools can have a shot at college or a career. That law also secured for Nevada a bigger increase in Medicaid match funding than every other state in the union.

Solar and geothermal projects are heating up across the state because of stimulus funding. And just last week, another stimulus project took a giant leap forward: the transmission line that will connect the north and the south with electricity, and connect Nevadans with good-paying jobs. Energy independence is coming. And it’s bringing with it many hundreds of jobs now and in the future.

I’m not saying the law was perfect. But I am saying it was necessary, and it’s working. It saved Nevada and our country from an economy much worse than what we’ve experienced.

The stimulus isn’t the only emergency action Congress took that’s misunderstood. Let me say something briefly about the lifelines to the banking and auto industries.

First, the program that brought our economy back from the brink of collapse. No one wanted to help the banks that jeopardized our economy and crashed the housing market. Just like you, I’d seen the foreclosure signs multiply across our state, and I had no sympathy for the greedy Wall Street bankers who forced them there.

But I’ll never forget the meeting we had – just a handful of us – with President Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. I’ll never forget sitting in that room on that Thursday when they told us how close we were to not having an economy on Monday. They told us what we needed to do to save ourselves. And acting as partners rather than partisans, we did it.

TARP, as it's called, started under a Republican President and ended under a Democratic President. But its virtue is not just that the story started with bipartisanship. It’s also that it ended with success. We asked a lot of the American people, and now we're paying them back: The bailout is turning taxpayers a profit.

Second, many have asked why we would help a failing industry like the American car companies. But just like with the stimulus and TARP, the results belie its reputation. General Motors is back on its feet, in control of its own finances and adding jobs. Now it’s giving its hourly workers profit-sharing checks worth thousands of dollars. Even Chrysler – the most endangered of the Big Three auto companies – is bouncing back from bankruptcy and expects to make a profit this year.

That’s especially welcome news for the states and cities that build cars, but it’s encouraging news for all of us. We should always be rooting for American companies to succeed – iconic industries and bright young entrepreneurs alike. Nevadans never root for failure.

These underrated successes aside, I didn’t come here to talk about the past. I didn’t come to re-fight the fights of the last few years. I’m here to talk about our future: How we will move Nevada forward. How we will seize this unique, rare and critical opportunity to lead not just the nation’s economy, but the world’s.

Some may question whether we can get there. Too many Nevadans are still looking for jobs. Too many families are still fighting to stay in their homes. But I know this state. I don’t question whether Nevada can mature in this new decade and this young century and soon find ourselves in front once again. My only question is how quickly it will happen.

If we’re going to talk about our future, let’s start where our future does: in our schools. Our responsibility to our children's education is solemn and serious.

Just a couple of years before I joined this Assembly, I was struggling through law school as a young father and a full-time policeman. I didn’t know if I was going to be able finish school. One day I went to the dean of students and told him I had a family and a broken car and needed some financial help. I’ll never forget what he told me. He didn’t give me an ounce of sympathy, or an inch of respect. Instead the dean said, “Mr. Reid, why don’t you just quit?”

I guess that was all I needed to hear. I knew I had to prove him wrong. I knew right then I would graduate.

Sometimes the people who motivate us the most are the ones who believe in us the least. Right now, a lot of people out there don’t believe in Nevada. The country doesn’t look at us as leaders – it sees a state stuck in the last percentiles. If that doesn't make you want to work harder, you’re in the wrong line of work.

Nevada ranks 50th in state contributions to education. Our children really deserve better. We’re not the only state that has to make hard choices when it comes to budget cuts. But few have forced its K-through-12 and higher-education systems to cut millions from already-tight budgets, as Nevada has. And we do this year after year.

We’re beyond asking our schools and universities to trim their budgets, or do more with less. These cuts, and calls for more cuts, undermine our most important goal: preparing Nevada’s students for the global economy. If our priority is producing a workforce that can compete with the rest of the world, let’s legislate that way.

And let’s admit that a one-size-fits-all approach to education fits nobody. Our state is home to the fifth-largest school district in the country, as well as some of the smallest. There are almost four times as many schools in Clark County as there are students in Esmeralda County.

That’s why we’re working to reform No Child Left Behind, so it works better for our schools. And it’s why we’ve signed on to the Common Core Initiative. That new program will help develop world-class standards for our students and make Nevadans more competitive.

Education funding has primarily been a state and local responsibility, and that’s how it should be. But there’s room for us to work together. And I will do everything I can to help ease the burdens on state and local school districts.

If we lag in education today, we’re going to lose at everything tomorrow. We weren’t even in the running for Race to the Top funds because we’ve fallen too far behind to be considered. We have to approach these competitions like an athlete approaches a new season: We first have to make the playoffs if we want any shot at the championship.

But before any of this can happen, we have to recognize that our children’s education is not about tenure and teachers unions. It’s not about budgets, or taxes or profits. It’s not about yesterday’s alliances or adversaries. It’s not about us at all. It’s about our children, our students and their future.

Nevada isn’t a last-place kind of place. We know this in our hearts. Together we can make the world believe it too, but we’re going to have to earn it.

As close as we are to the back of the line when it comes to education, we’re at the forefront of the clean-energy revolution.

America is going to use nearly 20 million barrels of oil today. That’s more than 20 percent of all of the oil the entire world will use today. But America has less than three percent of the world’s reserves – and they’re going fast. And when it comes to how much that oil costs, we’re at the mercy of OPEC. That’s a strategy for yesterday. We need a strategy for tomorrow.

The more we invest in and develop clean energy, the faster we’ll solve two of our toughest challenges: Creating jobs and reducing our reliance on oil. The faster we act, the faster we’ll be energy independent.

Clean energy is one of the best investments we’ll ever make. Nevada is already the hub of renewable energy – our solar, wind and geothermal potential is unbeatable. Our challenge, then, is to make Nevada the hub of the renewable energy industry. Now is our chance to turn that energy into jobs.

No place on Earth is better for this kind of development than right here. That’s why we’re attracting companies from countries like China – businesses that are building wind turbines and LED technology in our state. They’re coming to Nevada from halfway around the globe because they see good business opportunity here. We welcome them. Their plants will put Nevadans back to work and help plant the roots of our new future.

The transmission line I mentioned a minute ago is an example of a homegrown solution – a public-private partnership made possible by the stimulus. The One Nevada line will soon completely free us from having to import any electricity at all. In fact, with consumers like California next door and growing efforts to build a reliable electricity grid in the West, we’re poised to become a net exporter of clean energy into the national marketplace.

We need to make sure spending cuts don’t hold us back. And I’ll do everything I can to make it easier for businesses to develop affordable clean energy; to help families use that clean energy; and to make it easier for our cars, trucks, homes and offices to run on clean energy. The future of our economy depends on it – and so does the future of our environment and our national security.

Stronger education and cleaner energy are two pieces to the same puzzle. Nevada will return to the top when we build a foundation that brings people and businesses here.

This state has always been a destination – from yesterday’s pioneers, like my dad’s parents, who came here to mine our rich minerals, to today’s tourists, who enjoy the beauty of our deserts and mountains and entertainment. That’s one of the reasons we killed Yucca Mountain. And it’s the reason I worked so hard to pass the travel promotion law. That bipartisan plan is taking the strategies that have made Las Vegas so successful and exporting them to our entire nation’s tourism industry. It’s already working. It’s attracting visitors from around the globe and creating jobs right here in Nevada.

Tourism will always be our biggest industry – but it can’t be our only one. We’ve learned the hard way that when tourists stay away, jobs go away. So let’s open more doors.

If we don’t show the country we’re serious about education, why would the best teachers and researchers come here to work? Why would parents put their children in our schools?

If we don’t show the world we’re serious about clean energy, why would the best scientists make our state their laboratory for the newest technologies?

And if we don't prove that we’re a 21st-century state, why would a creative new company – or a small business that can be tomorrow’s biggest employer – set up shop in Nevada?

I recently met with a group of businessmen who run data centers for technology companies. They visited Storey County to see about opening a facility there, a move that would have created desperately needed jobs.

Storey County does a lot of things right. It’s the home of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, which is the largest of its kind in the country. But one of the businessmen in that meeting told me he simply couldn’t believe that one of the biggest businesses in the county he was considering for his new home is legal prostitution. I’ve talked to families who feel the same way – parents who don't want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel. Or to live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights.

So let’s have an adult conversation about an adult subject. Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment – not as the last place where prostitution is still legal. When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world’s newest ideas and newest careers – not about its oldest profession.

We should do everything we can to make sure the world holds Nevada in the same high regard you and I do. If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution.

I’ve talked about the jobs we need to create in the private sector. Allow me to speak shortly about the jobs our public servants do. We recognize Nevada’s potential because we have learned from our past. We let our history inform our future. And that experience teaches us that we cannot throw out experience.

Nevada imposes term limits at every level of our government – for mayors, county commissioners, constitutional officers and for all of you state legislators. Everyone except the judiciary. In each case, they’re counterproductive. These restrictions don’t limit terms; they limit our ability to move forward.

I know many of you are serving today because your predecessor’s term limits gave you the chance to run. But this issue is bigger than any one of us as individuals. And this is not just about political theory. We can see it with our own eyes, in the people we’ve served with, colleagues we know and respect, public servants whose expertise has made this state a better state and whose experience has made us better at our jobs.

When Dean Rhoads, a fine Republican, leaves the Senate after this term, so will his 35 years of hard-earned experience. When John Oceguera finishes his first term as Speaker of the Assembly, it will also be his last. Of course, he replaced another well-respected but term-limited Speaker, Barbara Buckley, who did so much for our state on education, health care and other important issues.

No one can say that Nevada – especially northern Nevada – would be better off had Bill Raggio’s service been arbitrarily cut short. He could never have built the relationships or gained the institutional knowledge that helped him lead the Senate so well for so long. The North would never have known the clout it now has. And in the South, Oscar Goodman is an overwhelmingly popular mayor – and always has been. Why should he have to step down if the people he represents don’t want him to? For some, two years is too much. For others, 20 years isn’t long enough.

We don’t need artificial term limits. After all, we already have natural ones. They’re called elections. Anyone serving today should be able to serve at the will of the voters – the people of Nevada. I don’t think anyone here believes our constituents lack the capacity or don’t deserve the right to choose their own leaders. And if you don’t believe they’ll exercise that right, just look at the United States Congress.

Remember when President Bush said in 2006 that he got a “thumpin”? Or when the wheel of the majority turned again just this past November, and President Obama said he got a “shellacking”? Both of these words were synonyms for remarkable, natural turnover. The voters take care of term limits for us.

One more word about learning from others’ experience: I served with Republican Gordon Smith in the United States Senate. Like all of us, he served in his state’s legislature. When Gordon was the President of the Oregon State Senate, his number-one goal was to implement term limits. He succeeded, but quickly came to regret it. He called it, in his words, “the biggest political mistake of my life.” Oregon agreed: it no longer has term limits.

We should not turn away those who want to serve our state. We should not eliminate expertise that dedicated Nevadans have spent years earning. And in this part-time body charged with solving full-time problems, we should not forget that term limits leave behind a vacuum of institutional knowledge. The ones who fill that vacuum are unelected lobbyists, legislative staff and special interests.

We should never get in the way of our own ability to move Nevada forward. It is up to you to protect our best leaders’ contributions – not reject them. So I ask you to take this to the people and reverse our destructive term-limits law.

Ours is a state of frontiersman and fighters. It’s in our blood. That’s why the story of America is the story of Nevada and of the West. In our country, pioneer is another word for leader, and westward means forward.

Lands that were once the frontier are now cities on the front lines of technology and industry. Where our towns were once dominated by homesteads, they now are dotted by energy-efficient homes. The Old West has given way to the New West, and it is up to us to define what that means.

The question is whether we will direct our destiny, or forfeit our future. I know our challenges are many. But our opportunity to prosper hasn’t been this rich since my father’s parents came here seeking gold and silver. The chance is ours, if we so choose.

The window in which we can seize this opportunity stands as open as the desert – but it may be as fleeting as the desert wind. The day to grow new jobs, attract new business, raise a strong generation and breathe new life into our economy is today, if we take it.

Today is also our first President’s birthday. George Washington knew a thing or two about hardship and hard choices. At the height of the Revolution, long before we won our independence and Washington won his immortality, success was far from certain. When failure seemed the most likely fate, he wrote one of his generals the following:

“We should never despair,” Washington said. “Our situation before has been unpromising, and has changed for the better – so I trust it will again.”

He reminded that General, a man by the name of Philip Schuyler, that new tests are merely an opening for new triumphs, and new problems a prompt for new ideas.

General Schuyler received Washington’s letter and took his words to heart. He didn’t despair. He believed. And once the colonies became a country – as the promise of a new nation lay before him – the general returned home to create change where it starts: he joined his state’s legislature.

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