U.S. Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., on Friday cast his lot with those who would like to remove the name of former U.S. Sen. Pat McCarran from Las Vegas' main airport.
Reid acknowledged that he has no say in the decision - that rests with the Clark County Commission because the county owns and operates the airport. Nevertheless, Reid made his feelings clear in response to a question from the Las Vegas Review-Journal during a ceremony at McCarran International's new Terminal 3.
"Pat McCarran was one of the most anti-Semitic ... one of the most anti-black, one of the most prejudiced people ever to serve in the Senate," Reid said. "It's not a decision I am going to make, but you asked me to give you my opinion. I don't think his name should be on anything."
McCarran, who served in the U.S. Senate from 1932 until his death in 1954, authored the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, which set the airline regulatory framework for four decades, and pushed for the development of civil aviation. In recognition, the county named the airport McCarran Field in 1948.
But Las Vegas Councilman Steve Ross, in his role as a member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority, in June raised the idea of replacing McCarran's name with Las Vegas International. He said the city name would do more to boost recognition for the all-important visitor industry. The authority will take up the debate again in September, though it has no power but persuasion.
But during an authority board discussion earlier this month, county commissioner and authority chair Tom Collins said there's no reason to spend what may be millions of dollars changing signs and other things when Las Vegas is already prominent.
"I would need to have a real reason for doing it, not just doing it for the sake of doing it," Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak said Friday. For him, that would mean evidence that a name change would draw more visitors.
Reid's comments Friday followed a tour of the new Terminal 3 by Reid and U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood. LaHood announced a $17.6 million federal grant to help repave two of the airport's asphalt taxiways with concrete. Already, the county commission has approved a $26.3 million contract for the work, a process that started in February.
In a 1999 retrospective, the Review-Journal had this to say about McCarran:
McCarran International Airport is named for him ... because of what he did for aviation. McCarran wrote the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938, the Federal Airport Act, and the National Aircraft Theft Act. He was the first to introduce a bill for a separate air force, in 1933.
McCarran considered himself a conservative Democrat, and opposed many of Franklin Roosevelt's New Deal programs. He got out of a sickbed in 1937 to speak against Roosevelt's transparent plan to expand the nine-justice Supreme Court to as many as 15 seats. ...The expansion would have allowed Roosevelt ... a decisive and lasting liberal majority.
His anti-Communist fears led McCarran into an ill-advised red-hunting alliance with Sen. Joseph McCarthy. McCarran had the best-organized staff in the Senate and trusted its research. He once rose on the Senate floor to denounce a Justice Department lawyer for foot-dragging on a prosecution for subversive activity. The accusation proved unfounded. (It was later learned that) one of McCarthy's ... aides had slipped McCarran a note, advancing the McCarthyesque rumor in the guise of fact, and that McCarran reasonably believed the note came from his own careful staff. McCarran made a public retraction.
His alliance with and defense of McCarthy, remembered today only as a lipshooting bully, permanently tarred McCarran's own reputation.
Contact reporter Tim O'Reiley at email@example.com or 702-387-5290.