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John L Smith: Insights Into Harry Reid As A Political Powerhouse

Associated Press

It’s safe to say Nevada Senator Harry Reid has had an impact on Nevada. 

From land and environmental issues to the very structure of the Democratic party here. 

Love him or hate him, his influence in Washington has been felt for decades here in Nevada. 

But, who influenced Harry Reid? 

State of Nevada contributor John L. Smith asked the retired senator that very question.

“Harry Reid is a poor boy from Searchlight, Nevada. We know that story pretty well. But he went to high school in Basic High School in Henderson and it was there that he met a government teacher named Mike O’Callaghan.”

Reid didn't think much of O'Callaghan at the time but that changed when he learned of O'Callaghan's ability in the ring. O'Callaghan was a boxing coach and Reid was a boxer.

“They admired his skills with fisticuffs but what they also learned in short order was that he was a war hero,” Smith said.

Before his political career, O'Callaghan served in the Korean War in heavy combat. 

When Reid graduated from high school, O'Callaghan helped him during law school and with his first job in Washington, D.C.

Then when O'Callaghan became the governor, Reid was his lieutenant governor.

“If somebody had to be disciplined, taken down, you had to go after them politically, Harry Reid was not shy about rolling up his sleeves and serving the governor loyally," Smith said.

After losing several races, including for the Senate, it looked like Reid's political career was over until O'Callaghan stepped in. 

“There is no question that Reid’s comeback in public life was underwritten by O’Callaghan," Smith said.

Harry Reid became a member of the gaming commission during some of the toughest and most tumultuous years. Reid was heavy criticized often but O'Callaghan taught him to hang tough.

The ability to shake off criticism was one of the skills Reid brought to Washington as a Senator. Even in Washington, "[Reid] counted on O’Callaghan’s counsel year after year on a very consistent basis,” until he died about a decade ago.

The closing of Macayo's restaurant

"You have to remember this was a time when the Friday night football game was a very big deal and after the game, the kids jumped in the car and went over to Macayo to have chips and salsa, probably about 10 pounds each - if memory serves. Drink about a gallon of cola and no they didn't serve underage high schoolers anything stronger. And the amazing TCT - the toasted cheese tortilla. It was all magical in those days. If you won, you celebrate. If you lost, you drowned yourself in salsa and chips."


John L. Smith, contributor

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Prior to taking on the role of Broadcast Operations Manager in January 2021, Rachel was the senior producer of KNPR's State of Nevada program for 6 years. She helped compile newscasts and provided coverage for and about the people of Southern Nevada, as well as major events such as the October 1 shooting on the Las Vegas strip, protests of racial injustice, elections and more. Rachel graduated with a bachelor's degree of journalism and mass communications from New Mexico State University.