Las Vegas Sun

May 22, 2019

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Jon Ralston:

A son, a mentor’s son and a U.S. senator

Rarely could an application process for a city attorney position rise to Shakespearean levels, but this one does.

But if the Bard fits, use him:

A senator’s son applies for the job. Dad calls councilfolk to talk up son. That’s par for the Nevada juice course.

But the part that makes this Shakespeare-worthy is that another applicant happens to be the son of a former governor — a chief executive whom the senator loved and to whom he owes his career. And now the governor’s son has withdrawn from contention to make way for the senator’s offspring, trying to keep peace in the extended family, but with relations clearly strained.

Tragedy? Comedy? History?

Yes.

In the wake of the August resignation of Liz Quillin as Henderson city attorney — a couple of months after a drunken driving arrest — city officials hoped to move beyond the controversy and hire a replacement. That’s where our story begins.

Josh Reid, one of Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s four sons, made it known to Henderson officials that he was interested in the job. Josh Reid is an experienced environmental attorney and a partner in Brownstein, Hyatt, Farber and Schreck. He is easily qualified for the job — perhaps even overqualified.

“I’m an environmental lawyer for a top law firm,” Reid the Younger told me. “I think if my name were submitted, I’d be a top choice.”

Indeed.

Despite his son’s manifest bona fides and his obvious last name, the state’s meddler in chief could not help himself. Around Labor Day, the majority leader rang up some of the Henderson council folks to talk up Josh Reid’s credentials.

I’m told the calls were not heavy handed, conducted in Reid’s usual low-key style. But once word was out that Josh Reid had applied, everyone knew what the perception would be.

“I know people think the fix is in,” said a candid Mayor Andy Hafen, who confirmed a call from the majority leader. “But it’s not.”

Maybe. But when Josh Reid found out his Dad had called, he said, he called Hafen and apologized. If it’s one thing Reid’s sons seem to understand — or care about — more than Reid the Elder, it’s how something might look.

Juicy, that is.

Unbeknownst to Josh Reid, he says, another applicant with a big Nevada name also coveted the city attorney’s job. Mike O’Callaghan Jr. had put his name in with the city, too.

Let me pause here for those of you who don’t know who O’Callaghan’s dad was. Mike O’Callaghan was a legendary figure in Nevada annals, a schoolteacher who rose to become a beloved governor, a war hero who lost a leg in Korea, and, later in life, an executive editor at the Sun. If you asked anyone who has been in Nevada for awhile if there was any figure who was larger than life, O’Callaghan’s name would certainly be first out of many mouths.

The governor certainly was larger than life to Harry Reid. He schooled Reid in his basic studies, in politics, in life. After Reid, who was O’Callaghan’s lieutenant governor, immolated his political career in the mid-’70s by losing a close Senate race and then a quixotic Las Vegas mayor’s contest, the governor resurrected him by appointing him to the state Gaming Commission. Reid used that as a springboard to run for Congress in 1982 and the rest, as they say, is history.

The only time in 25 years that I have seen Reid get emotional was at O’Callaghan’s funeral in 2004, when the senator gave a moving eulogy. So the fact that the governor’s son was a rival for Reid’s son for the city attorney’s post surely was unbeknownst to the senator when he began to make those phone calls, right? (I never got an answer from Reid’s folks, but I presume so.)

Nevertheless, you can imagine how O’Callaghan, Jr., felt when he learned of Josh Reid’s interest in the job he wanted. O’Callaghan also is well qualified for the job, having recently retired from a distinguished career in the district attorney’s office.

But he did not seem happy when I asked him Friday about applying for the city attorney’s job.

“No,” he said. “I’m withdrawing.”

Oh? Because Josh Reid applied?

“He’s a friend. He’s family. I don’t compete with family. This is not a story.”

Alas, it’s an even better story. And I’m sure the Bard would agree.

I almost feel sorry for the council members, who have at least a half-dozen other applicants for the post. Reid the Younger is perfectly qualified, but after Reid the Elder’s calls, they might look as if they were cowed by him.

No wonder Josh Reid apologized for the paternal lobbying. But I can only wonder what Mike O’Callaghan would say about all of this.

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