RENO - Harry Reid has rewritten Nevada history textbooks by becoming the most powerful political figure the state has ever had following his elevation to Senate minority leader, two history experts agree.
"It's a slam dunk," state Archivist Guy Rocha said on Wednesday. "I don't think anybody could reasonably argue that he has political standing like no other in the political annals of Nevada."
Jerome Edwards, professor emeritus of history at the University of Nevada, Reno, agreed.
"I think Harry Reid now is the most powerful senator that Nevada has ever had," he said. "He is number one on the list."
Sens. Key Pittman, Patrick McCarran, William M. Stewart and Howard Cannon round out the historians' top five. Rocha ranks Pittman second, while Edwards holds that position for McCarran.
Pittman, who was chairman of the foreign relations committee and Senate president pro tempore, used mining to keep the state out of financial distress, Rocha told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
"He kept Nevada going with the Pittman Silver acts during a tough mining time," he said.
He was popular among his colleagues but alcoholism ruined his career, Edwards said.
McCarran, for whom the Las Vegas airport is named, served four terms.
"He was a real student of power and he knew how to work within the institutional structure of the Senate," Edwards said. "He knew how to use the Senate rules."
The Democrat achieved much of his power through his position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, but lost track of what was going on in Nevada, he said.
Republican William M. Stewart served five terms in the Senate from 1864 until 1905.
Rocha said the former California legislator came to Nevada during the silver rush of 1859 and was instrumental in influencing legislation that produced the 1872 mining law that remains largely untouched today.
"He was a long-standing friend of the mining industry, constantly attempting to help Nevada during its tough times," Rocha said.
Stewart was close to President Abraham Lincoln and responsible for writing the draft of the right-to-vote proposal that became the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, he said.
Cannon, a Democrat in the Senate from 1958 to 1982, chaired the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and was the second ranking member of the Armed Services Committee.
He helped ensure funding for McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas and Reno-Tahoe International Airport, which, for a time was named Reno-Cannon International. The terminal that passengers rush through in Reno still bears his name. Cannon died in March 2002.
Francis Newlands, the congressional architect of the massive Churchill County irrigation project that bears his name, is No. 6 on Rocha's Senate list since most of his work to turn the Fallon area's desert into an agricultural oasis occurred when he was in the U.S. House.
Rocha said Reid has assured his spot in Nevada history by becoming the most powerful Democrat in the Senate. How he will be represented nationally to students of the future remains to be seen.
"We're measuring by the position that he has just maintained," Rocha said. "What he does, remains to be seen. He just took the job."