GW Law School Fall 2003
A Magazine for Alumni and Friends

Admissions: The New Standard

By Jamie L. Freedman

As Election Day 2005 wound to a close this past November, Harry Reid (D-Nev.), JD ’64, emerged as a double victor—winning his fourth term as a U.S. senator and securing his party’s unanimous support as the Senate’s new Democratic leader. Since graduating from GW Law School in 1964, Reid has spent nearly his entire career in public life.


Photo by Julie Woodford

Widely regarded as one of Washington’s most skilled legislators, the soft-spoken senator from Searchlight, Nev., is quick to admit that he never set out to become a national political leader. “I’d love to give you some great philosophical reason about why I entered public service, but the fact is that I had no political aspirations,” Reid told GW Law School magazine this spring from his second floor office in the U.S. Capitol. A hard-rock miner’s son who was raised in a small cabin without indoor plumbing and educated in a two-room elementary school in tiny Searchlight, Reid moved with his wife, Landra, and young children to Washington in 1961 to attend GW Law, working nights as a U.S. Capitol police officer to support the growing family.

Law degree in hand, he returned to Nevada, launching his political career as city attorney of Henderson, where he’d attended high school. “There was an opening in the city attorney’s office, and, although I initially had no interest in it, my father-in-law convinced me to apply,” he says. The young Reid rapidly made a name for himself, revising the city charter and helping to extend Henderson’s boundaries by acquiring federal land. In 1966, he assumed his first elected position on the hospital board of southern Nevada, and, in 1968, he won a seat on the Nevada State Assembly, introducing the first air pollution legislation in the state’s history. Two years later, at the age of 30, Reid was elected Nevada’s youngest-ever lieutenant governor. He went on to chair the Nevada Gaming Commission for five years beginning in 1977, winning accolades for his relentless quest to clean up the state’s gaming industry.


Many of Sen. Harry Reid's happiest moments are spent with his large, close-knit family, composed of his wife and high school sweetheart, Landra, their five children, Lana, Rory, Leif, Josh, and Key, and 15 grandchildren ranging in age from 1 to 13.

Reid won his first of two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives in 1982, earning acclaim for introducing the landmark Taxpayer Bill of Rights. In 1986, he was elected to the U.S. Senate, where he has built a strong record of accomplishment and served as chairman of many important committees and subcommittees, including, most recently, the Environment and Public Works committee and the Ethics committee. Reid was chosen by his Senate colleagues to serve as the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the Senate—known as the Whip—in 1998, and in 2004, he was unanimously elected Senate Democratic Leader after former Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) lost his bid for re-election. “The work is more intense,” he says of the new position, predominantly because he has to “deal on a personal basis with many more senators” than in the past. “That’s the job,” he states.

Throughout his 23 years on Capitol Hill, Reid has enjoyed fighting for the rights and interests of the people who sent him there. “I think that the thing that has kept me invigorated is being able to make changes in people’s lives,” he says. “I feel fortunate to be able to serve in Congress and enjoy looking back on the things that we’ve been able to change for the better, as well as looking forward to things that we want to continue to work on to change.”


Harry Reid discusses the Senate's upcoming votes on judicial nominations during a news conference on Capitol Hill May 24. In the background are Rep. Robert Menendez (D.-N.J.) and Sen. Byron Dorgan (D.-N.D.).

Photo by Dennis Cook, AP/WWP

Topping his agenda are health care for all Americans, energy independence for the country, retirement security, education, and stopping the privatization of Social Security (see sidebar). “We have a lot of work to do here, since the country is so complicated socially and economically,” he says, noting that passing and implementing new legislation is only half of the equation. “Some of our most important legislative accomplishments are what we stop from passing.”

Despite the rigorous demands of his career, Reid’s tight-knit family has remained his top priority through the years. When asked what legacy he would most like to leave the American people, the proud father of five and grandfather of 15 quickly states, “Frankly, I’m more interested in the legacy that I leave to my family, which is to work hard, take good care of my family, and be fair in my dealings with those I come in contact. I think if I impart those values to my family, then I’ll be leaving a legacy that the American people will feel good about.”


The Quotable Harry Reid

During his interview with GW Law School magazine, Harry Reid shared his opinions about hot topics of the day. Some of his comments are included here.


Harry Reid on Health Care:


There are 45 million Americans without health care. Many of these uninsured are children who are not getting the adequate medical care they need. That is unacceptable in our society. This is a real crisis and where we should be focusing our attention now.

  Harry Reid on Pensions:   Pensions are a key leg of the retirement stool. We need to make it easier for people to save money and create incentives for them to do so. Rather than focusing on a plan that would destroy Social Security, the president and the Republicans should be working with us on pension reform.  
  Harry Reid on Energy Independence:   Americans are paying record prices for gas. The cost for a tank of gas has skyrocketed in recent years. Oil companies are reaping record profits while the average American family is squeezed harder and harder to make ends meet. We need an energy bill that helps American families instead of giving billions to the oil and gas industry. I have worked for years to increase our renewable energy production using resources like the sun, wind, and geothermal heat to meet our energy demands and reduce our dependence on oil.  
  Harry Reid on His Proudest Legislative Accomplishment:   For more than 20 years I’ve been fighting to keep a waste dump out of Nevada. We’ve kept it out so far and I’m confident we’ll ultimately prevail. I’ve also worked the last few years on legislation affecting our veterans. Until my legislation, military retirees could not collect their retirement pay and their disability pay concurrently. A little at a time, I’ve been able to change that law and hope one day all veterans who retire from the military will be able to collect both. I worked on legislation that solved a 100-year water war involving Nevada and California, multiple Indian tribes, federal, state, and local agencies, and a number of private entities. It was terribly difficult and took years to do, but it is a good piece of legislation and I am proud of it.  

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