Things Democrats can learn from Senator Harry Reid - GulfToday

Things Democrats can learn from Senator Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Harry Reid

Eric Garcia, The Independent

Tributes poured in for the late Senator Harry Reid after his death last week, noting his humble beginnings as a kid from Searchlight, Nevada who went from an amateur boxer to Capitol Police Officer for the building which he would later run as Senate majority leader.

They focused on how he convinced Barack Obama to run for president, helped pass the president’s signature health care law and then nuked the filibuster for Cabinet and judicial appointments. Republicans highlighted how his soft-spoken nature betrayed his ability to make blunt, brazen and sometimes flat-out untrue statements about his political opponents.

At the same time, many have commented on the famed “Reid Machine”, the late senator’s political operation that relied on Nevada’s culinary union, which was heavily Latino. In turn throughout the last chapter of his career, Reid built strong ties to Hispanic voters that could serve as a tutorial for the Democratic Party as it has seen its support from Latinos erode.

Reid and I discussed his support among Latino voters in an interview for a piece I planned to write about his former protege, Catherine Cortez Masto, while I was a freelancer. The fact that Cortez Masto, who succeeded him after he retired in 2017 and whom he hand-picked, is the first — and so far only — Latina senator in US history is a testament to that support.

Put simply, Reid made it a point to just show up and listen. Even as he was in his final months, Reid remained sharp when recalling his Latino outreach.

“What we did in Nevada, people used to make fun of me actually, because I went to all the Cinco de Mayo events,” he told me. Similarly, he mentioned his work with Latino media and how he solicited donations for toys for poor Latino kids. “In short, I was criticised for spending so much time with Hispanics, because people said there was a lot of them that aren’t even citizens,” he said. “When they are citizens, they don’t register to vote, but when they register to vote, they don’t vote anyway. We were able to show that that’s not true.”

José Dante Parra, who was an adviser to Reid, made a similar point to me back in November 2020, shortly after Donald Trump made significant gains with Latino voters. He noted how Reid, a white convert to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, probably didn’t look like the ideal ally to Latinos but he still was able to speak to Latinos.

“But people do respect the fact that he’s coming to talk to them, that he’s reaching out and he hired people in order to do that, to communicate in Spanish,” he said. “He also realized that we need to be reached bilingually, that simply doing it in Spanish is not the only way, but that Millennials and Gen-Zers and countless people who are multi-generational or have been here for several generations, even before the US was the US, that they’re more comfortable to be talked to in English and in Spanish.”

What made Reid’s outreach even more remarkable was his about-face on immigration. In 1993, Reid had introduced legislation challenging birthright citizenship that was guaranteed in the 14th Amendment of the US Constitution.

As the virulently anti-immigrant Breitbart reminded people on the occasion of his death, he said “no sane country has an anchor baby policy,” referring to the children of undocumented immigrants who in turn allow their parents to gain citizenship. He later admitted this was a mistake, but in an era when Republicans were campaigning on nativist fears, he helped fan the flames to the extent that later, Trump would harken back to Reid’s old words even after Reid had left the Senate.

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