Office-leaving Sen. Harry Reid will never live down the shame of keeping the terribly undemocratic filibuster.
Reid, retiring in 10 days after a 50-year career in Nevada politics, was majority leader for 12 years when his Democratic Party controlled the Senate. He alone could have killed the filibuster. He lacked the wisdom to do it.
That failure forever tarnishes his reputation.
At the first session to organize the new Congress every two years, all he had to do as Senate boss was to ask for a simple majority vote of 51 to approve legislation. A request of the majority leader would have been approved.
Instead, the nation is still saddled with the reactionary 60-vote majority rule.
Senate Republicans used that filibuster 360 times while Reid was leader. Among the Senate “vetoes” were many progressive measures like women’s pay equality.
That bill passed 52-47 but lacked the 60 votes needed to bust a filibuster. At the time of the vote on the Fairness Pay Bill, women were making 77 to every $1 earned by men in comparable jobs and with comparable experience.
BUT CHEERS FOR ENVIRONMENT DEEDS
Nevertheless, Reid’s environmental achievements for Nevada should be celebrated.
Foremost is Great Basin National Park, Nevada’s first and only national park. It was created in 1986, incorporating the existing Lehman Caves National Monument. The key difference is that lands in national parks are protected for their scenic, inspirational, educational and recreational value.
Homage to Reid for his efforts for the Nevada environment appeared in the recent Toiyabe Trails, the Sierra Club’s environment newspaper. It was written by Tina Nappe.
She pointed out how Reid prevented amendments and even elimination of the Endangered Species Act. That 1973 national act concerned species whose existence is threatened in their range or the ecosystems on which their living depends.
Other conservation areas in Nevada:
RED ROCK NATIONAL CONSERVATION AREA
Scenic Loop, 17 miles west of Las Vegas. Established in 1967. The 10,000 acres are managed by U.S. Bureau of Land Management.
LAKE TAHOE SUMMIT
First summit there was held in 1997 with President Clinton’s vice-president, Al Gore, presiding. The summit led to passage of the Lake Tahoe Restoration Act in 2000, providing $300 million for the lake over 10 years. The legislation was re-authorized in 2016 with essential support of Republican Sen. Dean Heller of Nevada. The aim was to clean up the magnificent lake and then maintain its clarity. President Obama spoke at the 20th annual Summit in 2016.
Reid put together legislation between 1988 and 1990 to settle a jurisdictional dispute among Pyramid Lake, Lahontan Valley and Truckee Meadows. The legislation also protected Cui-ui trout, Lahontan Cutthroat trout and wetland birds in Lahontan Valley. The legislation was followed by years of negotiation leading to the Truckee River Operating Agreement in 2016.
BLACK ROCK DESERT
Working with former Nevada Democratic Sen. Dick Bryan, Reid assisted in creating the Black Rock Desert-High Rock Emigrant Trail National Conservation Area. It contains 741,844 acres of wilderness. Congress approved the package in 2000.
NEVADA WILDERNESS ACT
Passage of the Nevada Wilderness Act in 1989 established 733,400 acres of U.S. Forest Service wilderness land. Reid has guided 3.4 million acres of wilderness legislation benefitting Nevada. The latest two wilderness designations are Wovoka (47,500 acres) and Blue Lakes (26,000 acres) enacted in 2014.
BASIN & RANGE NATIONAL MONUMENT
Obama in 2015, using his executive authority under the U.S. Antiquities Act and at the urging of Reid, established the Basin and Range National Monument in central Nevada. The 704,000 acres of BLM land surround private lands housing an art installation by Michael Heizer, a sculpture called “City.” The land is now owned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.
WATER RIGHTS FOR WILDLIFE
Reid has managed to obtain millions of dollars from Congress to purchase water rights for wildlife in Lahontan Valley and Walker Lake.
His environmental record, in sum, is exceptional.
PRAISE FOR LATE MARGE SILL
On the recent death of Marge Sill at the age of 92, Reid issued a press release extolling her as “an inspiration to generations of Nevada environmental advocates.”
“Marge worked tirelessly to help pass the national Wilderness Act of 1964. After that she played an important role in preserving Nevada wilderness and wildlife wonders. Over the past five decades every protected environmental acre in Nevada bore Marge’s fingerprint.”
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor from the University of Nevada, Reno. (firstname.lastname@example.org)