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October 16, 2019

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What now? Here’s how Harry Reid will likely spend his last months in the Senate

Reid steps down 32715

Courtesy of YouTube

Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., announces his retirement in a YouTube video to his supporters Friday, March 27, 2015.

For Sen. Harry Reid, it's legacy time.

In announcing his retirement Friday, Nevada's senior Democrat said he wanted to leave while he was ahead.

"I want to go out at the top of my game," Reid said in an interview the same day with Nevada Public Radio.

These final two years in the Senate are critical for Reid to ensure that's what happens. Without a grueling 20-month campaign, Reid has a chance to cement his legacy in the state in everything from transportation to wind farms.

Here's some of what he's likely to focus on in the final two years of a 34-year career in Congress:

Renewable energy

The same day Reid announced his retirement, another announcement circulated in Las Vegas: In two weeks, Reid would be headlining a talk there on the clean energy economy.

It was a sign of Reid's continued commitment to shutting down Nevada's coal economy while building up its wind, solar and geothermal industry.

He helped secure hundreds of millions of dollars in the 2009 economic stimulus bill to build renewable projects in the state and has helped upgrade Nevada's grid through transmission lines to ship solar, wind and geothermal energy generated in the desert to cities like Los Angeles.

Reid said Friday he planned to fight in Congress to maintain tax cuts for the renewable energy industry.

"I am going to continue doing everything I can to have a cleaner source of energy for electricity production, and one really good way to do that is with solar," he said.

For his work in renewable energy and much more, Reid "deserves a monument," said Nevada Democrat and confidante Billy Vassiliadis.

Public lands

Reid is an environmentalist at heart, and he's worked to secure hundreds of thousands of acres of wilderness in Nevada for federal protection.

"I am so moved by what he's done for Nevada," said Neil Kornze, a former Reid aide and the director of the Bureau of Land Management, the agency that manages most of the public land in the state. "I look at the maps of the West, specifically the map of Nevada, and I see Harry Reid's mark in every county, in every community."

And the entire Colorado River basin can thank Reid, who helped maneuver a behind-the-scenes water treaty with Mexico, said former Las Vegas water czar, Pat Mulroy.

"There wouldn't be a reservoir on the All American Canal if it wasn't for Sen. Reid," she said.

The job's not over: Reid has filed two bills in the Senate — not without controversy — that would protect thousands more just a few hours in and around Clark County.

One is the Gold Butte Basin and Range, which Reid waxed about Friday:

"Gold Butte is a beautiful place not far out of Las Vegas at all. I have been there, such wonderful archaeological wonder with hieroglyphics on those rocks it is really a beautiful place and we need to protect that because with the tremendous growth in Las Vegas area that will be destroyed."

Yucca Mountain

"Yucca Mountain is dead," Reid also declared Friday. "It will never be a high-level nuclear repository."

As talks to restart the project gained momentum in Congress, this was one of several times in the past few weeks Reid has felt compelled to declare dead a 1980s law consigning the Nevada desert to store the nation's commercial nuclear waste.

Reid has been influential in putting the brakes on Yucca Mountain, and he indicated Friday he would continue serving as a roadblock for it. Even as he was planning his retirement announcement, Reid said he had lunch with the Secretary of Energy this week, who also "doesn't want it to happen."

Reid pointed out he would still be able to block legislation in the Senate for the next two years.

"So there is going to be no legislation passed to either create Yucca Mountain or do anything to change how it now exists."

The economy

As President Barack Obama mentioned when he phoned into KNPR to surprise Reid, the then-Senate majority leader helped stop the nation from spiraling into a depression in the 2008 economic meltdown. Back home, Reid was part of boardroom-level negotiations back home to save CityCenter, the $9.2 billion MGM Resorts development project that threatened to implode and take Las Vegas down with it.

As Nevada's economy is on the rebound, Reid said Friday he believed a critical component of protecting its growth was protecting collective bargaining rights and labor power in the workplace.

"I think that we need to strengthen the middle class, and one reason to do that is through organizing workers so that they get good working conditions, good wages, good benefits," he said.

In fact, Reid’s relationship with organized labor was a cornerstone in building the state’s Democratic Party. Unions were the foundation of his 2010 re-election win against Sharron Angle. They bused voters to the polls and funneled money to his campaign.

Reid’s relationships with unions weren’t always affectionate.

National trade groups urged Reid and Senate Democrats to approve the Keystone XL pipeline project. Reid blocked Keystone legislation from passing while he was majority leader. Unions also slammed him for his role in passing the Affordable Care Act, health care reform that Reid’s staff was influential in crafting. This month marked the fifth anniversary of the law, known as Obamacare. Reid was one of few lawmakers who publicly praised the law for helping more than 8 million Americans enroll in health care plans.

Politics

The godfather of the modern-day Nevada Democratic Party doesn't appear to be stepping down from one of his favorite roles anytime soon.

He made sure Friday to come out with an endorsement of who he wants to replace him: former Nevada Attorney General Catherine Cortez Masto.

And he promised he'd do everything he could to raise money for her, as well as for Nevada Democrats, Senate Democrats and for Hillary Clinton, should she run for president.

Speaking of presidential politics, Reid's one paragraph will likely include his ability to push Nevada's presidential primary to the top of the list; the first in the West and first four overall.

Now, the nation's eyes are expected to be on Nevada in 2016.

"We're what most refer to as a flyover state," said Chris Miller, the chairman of the Clark County Democratic Party. "If it weren't for Sen. Reid being the majority leader in U.S. Senate, there's a lot of things we wouldn't have in Nevada."

Assessing his own legacy

In interviews, Reid normally shies away from talking about his legacy. But he ended his public comments Friday on Nevada Public Radio with a thought on that subject:

"I want people to remember me as someone who never forgot where he came from," Reid said, "and who fought every day of his life to make sure that the kids like Harry Reid — these little boys from Searchlight and these kids in these teeming big cities — that we could look to me and say, 'You know, if Harry Reid could do it, I could do it.'"

Sun reporters Kyle Roerink and Conor Shine contributed to this story.

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