Reid delivers a hit and a miss during speech on Reagan

WASHINGTON -- Sen. Harry Reid delivered one hit and one miss Monday during a speech recalling Ronald Reagan's relationship with Nevada as president.

In a Senate address to recognize what would have been Reagan's 100th birthday on Sunday, the Nevada Democrat revealed that the president overruled his secretary of agriculture when he signed into law the creation of Great Basin National Park in 1986.

But Reid muffed when he said Reagan also ignored a veto recommendation in signing a comprehensive bill that sought to settle years of water disputes over the Truckee River. That bill was passed in 1990 and was signed by President George H.W. Bush.

"Again, President Reagan's advisers recommended he veto that bill," Reid said in the speech. "But President Reagan knew how important it was to Lake Tahoe. ... He signed the bill in spite of people recommending it not be signed."

Reid spokeswoman Meredith MacKenzie said the Senate majority leader misspoke in recalling the Northern Nevada legislation. Reid took up the issue in 1986 and worked with the Reagan administration on it, MacKenzie said. But it was passed and enacted two years after Reagan left office.

"The collaboration on it definitely happened," MacKenzie said. "The process took an inordinate amount of time, and this is what happens when you do so much."

Reid offered recollections of Reagan in the speech in which he called the 40th president, who died in 2004, a "proud neighbor of Nevada."

Reid recounted meeting Reagan for the first time at a Lake Tahoe skiing championship in the early 1970s when Reid was Nevada lieutenant governor and Reagan was governor of California. He also noted Reagan's strong friendship with former Nevada Gov. and U.S. Sen. Paul Laxalt.

And, Reid said, "I was fortunate enough to see firsthand President Reagan's appreciation for Nevada."

In 1986, when Reid was a U.S. House member running for Senate, Congress passed legislation he sponsored creating Nevada's first national park, in White Pine County.

But Reid said he learned that the secretary of agriculture, who was Richard Lyng, was recommending Reagan veto the bill rather than allow the Democrat to claim an election-year trophy.

"The agriculture secretary didn't like the idea of a young member of Congress from the other political party putting such a bill on the president's desk," Reid said.

A worried Reid sought a meeting with the director of the National Park Service, William Penn Mott.

"That man looked at me and said, 'President Reagan is not going to veto that bill,' " Reid said. Mott, he said, was familiar with the area and endorsed it for a national park.

So, Reid said, "Together, Harry Reid and Ronald Reagan created Great Basin National Park."

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at or 202-783-1760.