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Richard D.
Democrat IL

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  • Congratulating the Majority Leader

    by Senator Richard J. Durbin

    Posted on 2013-01-02

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    DURBIN. Mr. President, the State of Nevada was admitted to the Union in 1864. Since 1864 there have been 25 Senators in its 148-year history. Today Harry Mason Reid becomes the longest serving Member of Congress in the history of the State of Nevada.

    Senator Reid was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives the same year I was elected, 1982, and became a Member of the House in 1983. He became a Member of the Senate in 1987. He has served with great distinction in both Houses of Congress, serving his State of Nevada, and today is the highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, serving as its majority leader.

    I daresay, Mr. President, that you and I would probably not really know anything about the town of Searchlight, NV, were it not for Harry Reid. Harry Reid has told us so many stories of his youth and his background in that tiny town and what brought him to this station in life today. I almost feel that if there were a town or high school reunion, I could attend it with Harry and look around and recognize a lot of people there because I have certainly heard a lot of stories about his youth and the people who have had a dramatic impact on his life from the time he was growing up in Searchlight, NV.

    We know he came from modest circumstances. His family raised him in a very small home without indoor plumbing. He attended a two-room elementary school in Searchlight, NV. As a child, Senator Reid's father was a hard rock miner and his mother took in laundry. He says of his parents that his father gave him quiet and his mother gave him confidence.

    Opportunities were scarce in Searchlight, but Harry made the most of what he had. His book ``The Good Fight'' has a great opening paragraph that I would like to share with everyone because it says so much about what life must have been like in the town of Searchlight.

    Harry wrote in his book: I come from a mining town. But by the time I came along-- December 22, 1939--the leading industry in my hometown of Searchlight, NV, was no longer mining, it was prostitution. I don't exaggerate. There was a local law that said you could not have a house of prostitution or a place that served alcohol within so many feet of a school. Once, when it was determined that one of the clubs was in violation of the law, they moved the school.

    It says a lot about Searchlight. It also says a lot about the circumstances he faced growing up. He made the most of what he had.

    Between hitchhiking more than 40 miles and staying with extended relatives, Harry was able to attend Basic High School, the nearest high school to Searchlight. While at Basic High in Henderson, he met two people who dramatically changed his life--Landra Gould, who would become his wife of 53 years and counting, and Mike O'Callaghan, who was a coach, a teacher, a mentor, and a friend. Harry Reid said of Mike O'Callaghan that he was the toughest man he ever met.

    Harry Reid played high school baseball with Rey Martinez, who would become his chief of staff, and Donnie Wilson, who would also go to work for Reid in Washington.

    I once invited ``Mr. Cub,'' Ernie Banks, to my office, and I invited Harry Reid--a former baseball player in his youth--to come up and meet Ernie Banks.

    Ernie Banks looked in his eye and said: What position did you play, Harry? Harry said: I played catcher.

    [[Page S8638]] Ernie Banks said: I don't believe it. Get in the position.

    At that point, I heard the bones creaking as Harry went down in the catcher's crouch in my office in front of Ernie Banks, and we all cheered.

    He won his first election in high school when he ran for junior class treasurer. Of course he would win because Landra, his wife-to-be, wrote his speech and got him elected. Rey Martinez managed his campaign when he became the senior class president.

    He also ran into the fellow I mentioned earlier, Mike O'Callaghan, who had such a profound impact on his personal and political life. Behind Harry's desk, he has a picture of his friend and mentor Governor O'Callaghan.

    Harry Reid also took up boxing after he was inspired by Mike O'Callaghan--as I said, the toughest man he ever met, in Harry's memory.

    In his book ``The Good Fight,'' Harry said: There are sluggers, and then there are boxers. I became a pretty good boxer. I could assess situations well, and I learned to recognize and exploit an opposing fighter's weaknesses. I could hit hard, and I could take a punch.

    Mr. President, you and I know that is a perfect background for the business we are in today.

    With scholarship money Mike O'Callaghan had helped put together for him, Harry Reid left for the College of Southern Utah in Cedar City. He hated being so far away from Landra, so he moved back to Henderson for the summer.

    Despite the best efforts of Landra's father to discourage him, Harry married Landra. They eloped in September of 1959. The newly married couple moved to Logan, UT, where he would finish college while renting from a loving Mormon family, Matthew and Louise Bird. Harry Reid and Landra decided to join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints based on this wonderful family who served as their landlords. He told me many times that he didn't come from a religious family. In his book, he said that the only family religion he remembered was their devotion and love for Franklin Delano Roosevelt in his house.

    Mike O'Callaghan left teaching high school for Democratic politics at that point, and he urged Harry to move to Washington, DC, to attend law school. Harry Reid put himself through law school by working nights as a U.S. Capitol police officer. In his book are pictures of Harry in uniform as a Capitol police officer--a job that O'Callaghan had helped line up for him--when he was a law student.

    He returned to Nevada after law school and served as Henderson city attorney before being elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1968.

    In 1970, at age 30, Harry Reid ran for Lieutenant Governor of Nevada, with his friend and mentor Mike O'Callaghan running for Governor. They won the race, and Harry Reid served as Lieutenant Governor from 1971 until 1974, becoming a friend to my mentor Paul Simon, who was then Lieutenant Governor of Illinois.

    Harry lost his race for the U.S. Senate in 1974 when the seat was vacated by Alan Bible, but he lost by fewer than 600 votes. Governor O'Callaghan then asked him to serve as chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission.

    When Nevada's population growth led to an additional seat in Congress in 1982, Harry Reid ran for the new seat and won, and that is when I first met him. He served two terms in the House from 1983 to 1987 before running for the Senate. In 1986 Reid won the Democratic nomination for the Senate seat of retiring two-term incumbent Republican Senator Paul Laxalt.

    From 1999 to 2005 Harry Reid served as Senate Democratic whip, as minority whip from 1999 to 2001 and again 2003 to 2005, and then as majority whip from 2001 to 2003. During those years as whip, Harry Reid lived on the floor of the Senate. He developed a real understanding not just of the rules and procedures of the Senate but of the institution and the Members.

    Mike O'Callaghan died of a heart attack while attending daily Catholic mass in 2004, so he didn't live to see his good friend elected as minority leader in 2005 or, obviously, as majority leader in the Senate. But I know that every single day Harry serves in public life, Mike O'Callaghan is in his heart.

    I listened this morning to some of the analysts about what just happened with this historic vote yesterday in the Senate. Some of them this morning, who know a little bit about what really happens here, were diminishing the role played by Harry Reid. I can tell everyone that on the day leading up to the vote, the last day, December 31, I spent the better part of 16 hours in Harry's office as the negotiations went back and forth. There were three parties to that negotiation: Senator McConnell, the President of the United States, and Harry Reid. There was not a minute that passed that e-mails were not transferred back and forth to put together the coalition that passed this historic measure and avoided the economic disaster that otherwise would have occurred. It was not the first time I have seen Harry in that position--behind closed doors, without a lot of fanfare, playing a critical role in the passage of legislation that really makes a difference for the average working families of America.

    A few years ago I worked with him as he led the effort to pass the Health Care Reform Act, a measure on which I believe he shares my thinking--it is one of the most important pieces of legislation we have ever worked on in our lives. It never, ever would have become law if it were not for his skill, determination, and the trust the Democratic majority had in their leader, Harry Reid.

    This is a day, of course, in Nevada history as much as American history as Harry becomes the longest serving Congressman and Senator in the State of Nevada.

    I recall one particular visit to his office. I dropped in frequently there to see what was going on and to chat with him about the business of the Senate and life itself. When I came in, I saw a young rock group called the Killers sitting in his office. Yes, that is their name, the Killers, and they are from Nevada. Harry told me this young group, popular as they are in other places, was especially popular in Nevada because they performed the Nevada State song, which is entitled ``Home Means Nevada.'' When I think about this historic moment today when Harry becomes part of the history of his State, I recall one stanza from that song. It says, ``Deep in the heart of the golden west, home means Nevada to me.'' In all of my conversations over all the years, time and again the conversations always return to his home State of Nevada, his hometown of Searchlight, and the people he loves so much to represent in the Senate.

    It has been an honor to serve with this great man. I am glad he achieved this great moment in history on behalf of Nevada and the United States.

    The PRESIDENT pro tempore. The majority leader.

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