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May 23, 2019

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Harry Reid International? Push for airport name change sparks discord

McCarran's Terminal 3 Preview

Christopher DeVargas

A view of signage at McCarran International Airport’s Terminal 3, Feb. 1, 2012.

CARSON CITY — The Las Vegas airport should be renamed after the recently retired U.S. senator who many in Nevada call the most politically powerful man in state history, some legislators argued at a Senate hearing on Friday.

“There’s no one in the history of Nevada that has done more for Nevada than Harry Reid,” Senate Bill 174 sponsor Tick Segerblom, D-Las Vegas, said in front of the Senate Committee on Government Affairs. “There’s not a part of the state he hasn’t touched.”

In addition to renaming Las Vegas’ international airport after Reid, Segerblom proposed doing away with all traces of current airport namesake and former U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran, who he and other presenting advocates of the bill labeled as “anti-Semitic” and “a racist.”

McCarran’s post-World War II legislation, policies and votes that targeted Jewish-American citizens and politicians were just a few examples cited by UNLV professor and Nevada historian Michael Green during an eight-minute testimony in favor of SB174.

Green also cited McCarran’s public spats with Las Vegas Sun founder Hank Greenspun as another example of why he felt McCarran was not fit to keep his name on the airport.

Like Las Vegas, which was once colloquially known as the “Mississippi of the West” for its discriminatory treatment of minorities, the city’s airport has also evolved since its opening in 1948, Green said. Hosting just four airliners and 12 daily flights then, the airport served 45 million annual passengers via 490 daily flights operated by 30 international airline companies in 2016.

“McCarran certainly helped with the establishment of the international airport, but to compare what is was in 1948 with what it is today is to compare apples and oranges,” Green testified. “It is true we name many things for people in our history and we later find out that some of their deeds have been questionable or reprehensible.”

State Sen. Aaron Ford, D-Las Vegas, Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, D-Las Vegas, and Assemblywoman Sandra Jauregui, D-Las Vegas, also voiced their support for the bill, which would call for $2.5 million in private funding to change signs for Harry Reid Las Vegas International Airport at its terminals and on local roadways. Segerblom estimated the change would take three to five years to be completed.

An equal number of Nevadans made their way to the podium during Friday’s hearing in opposition to SB174, arguing that Green’s claims against McCarran were “unfounded” and “baseless.”

“Where is the proof that he was anti-Semitic,” said former Nevada Assembly candidate John Wagner. “To me, renaming the airport is like trying to rename the Washington Monument.”

Opponents of Segerblom’s bill also disputed Reid’s political legacy in Nevada, contending that the 30-year U.S. senator was “divisive” and highly partisan. To name the Las Vegas airport after Reid would not serve at least half of the population, dissenters of the bill said.

“His hyper-political partisanship has driven a wedge in this community, said Las Vegas business owner and former Nevada secretary of state candidate Rob Lauer. “You will not see Republicans supporting him because he was not bipartisan and he did not reach across the aisle.”

Friday’s hearing lasted 60 minutes and featured 18 commenters. The bill will likely be further discussed and potentially voted on by the committee during a work session as soon as next week.

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