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Players: Harry M. Reid

Balancing Nevada, National Interests

Reid Protects Gaming and Mining Industries While Advancing Democratic Agenda

By Thomas B. Edsall
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, February 1, 2005; Page A15

Last August, Democratic presidential candidate John F. Kerry pledged to boost funding for the national park system by $600 million a year by raising fees on mining companies. The National Mining Association immediately denounced the proposal, saying it would cost Nevada, a key battleground state, 44,000 jobs.

But that was before Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) went to work. Two months later, Kerry pledged to steer clear of any program that would threaten mining jobs: "Let me just say clearly to Nevada while I'm here: that [the NMA] is wrong. . . . As president I'm going to work with Harry Reid and with your miners to keep mining jobs, to keep people working."

Sen. Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.) can be a fierce advocate for his state's industries. (J. Scott Applewhite -- AP)

In Profile

Harry M. Reid

Title: Senator, Democrat from Nevada.

Education: Bachelor's degree, Utah State University; law degree, George Washington University.

Age: 65.

Family: Married; four sons, one daughter; 15 grandchildren.

Career highlights: Senate minority leader; Senate Democratic whip; member of the House; chairman, Nevada Gaming Commission; lieutenant governor, Nevada; member of the Nevada Assembly; city attorney, Henderson, Nev.; U.S. Capitol Police officer.

Pastimes: Reads history books, does yoga, runs four to five miles most days; has run in 15 marathons.

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The episode shows a side to Reid, the new Senate Democratic leader, that is not that well known outside Nevada. Like former Democratic leader Thomas A. Daschle (S.D.), Reid at times has had to balance his party's national political agenda against his state's more parochial economic interests.

Mining and the gaming industry are of paramount importance to Nevada, and Reid has repeatedly fended off legislative and regulatory threats to those two mega interests. At the same time, those industries have provided Reid with crucial political and financial support.

Reid has championed the mining industry's access to public lands and opposed environmental restrictions, while battling Internet gambling that cuts into Nevada's gaming revenue.

In the last election cycle, three of his top 10 sources of cash were casinos and their employees: $568,500 from Mandalay Resort Group, MGM Mirage and Park Place Entertainment. Two mining companies, Barrick Goldstrike Mines Inc. and Newmont Mining Corp., gave $191,300.

Reid's advice to Kerry to mend his relations with the mining barons was based on long experience with the western politics of Nevada. After losing a Senate bid in 1974, Reid ruefully concluded, "Nevada isn't as liberal as we thought."

Eventually he won a House seat that he used to catapult himself into the Senate, but only after learning to survive through the politics of pragmatism, negotiation and compromise.

In his new role, Reid said he will remain committed to representing the interests of Nevada. "My positions won't change," he said. "My colleagues knew where I stood when they elected me, and they know I'll stand firm in the future for principles in which I believe."

Reid has never been a big vote-getter, and has been heavily reliant on big campaign war chests to scare off challengers or help him through tough elections. Along the way, he has become a master at balancing the interests of Nevada's exploding population, which is increasingly concerned about environmental degradation; of Nevada's mining and gaming companies; and of socially liberal Democratic colleagues in the Senate whose votes have been essential to his rise in the party leadership and to his election in November as the Senate's Democratic leader.

His close alliance with two major home-state industries that carry political liabilities could have hobbled a less astute politician. The mining industry has repeatedly battled pro-Democratic environmental groups, and the gambling industry has been a lightning rod for criticism by church groups and advocates for the poor in the national culture wars.

Moving up the ladder from Henderson, Nev., city attorney in 1964, to the statehouse in 1968 and to lieutenant governor in 1970, Reid, 65, has spent his entire adult life in politics. After two big political setbacks in the 1970s, Reid was elected to the House in 1982. In 1986, he won his Senate seat.

Reid's support of mining interests places him among a minority of Democrats. The western extractive industries -- gold, silver, oil, gas and coal -- have repeatedly collided with a majority of Democrats over access to public lands, the fees charged to the industry and the environmental regulations governing exploitation of natural resources.

Reid has led fight after fight against proposals to restrict or ban mining on federal land, for reduced taxes on precious metal investments and against environmental regulatory initiatives.

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