Former US Senator Pat McCarran’s legacy is nothing to celebrate—Nevada’s largest airport should not bear his name.
McCarran’s time in the US Senate (1933 to 1954) coincided with great instability in the world. Yet as refugees of war and genocide turned to the US for sanctuary, he worked to adopt anti-immigrant policies that were draconian, racist, and frankly Un-American. McCarran’s rhetoric as a politician was textbook white nationalism; he rejected the notion that diversity makes our country richer and stronger. McCarran’s views sharply contradict with Southern Nevada’s story. As I told the LA Times, Nevada is not same state we were back then. We’re a majority-minority state and to have his name on the airport is inappropriate.
Once referring to immigrant groups as an “indigestible bloc”, McCarran was an unabashed anti-Semite who successfully blocked Holocaust survivors from arriving to the US. The Internal Security Act, also known as the “McCarran Act”, was a law that he sponsored that made deportations easier and admission to the US stricter despite being a child of immigrants himself. McCarran also founded a judicial committee that persecuted Americans believed to hold communist views. Many of those individuals brought before the committee were innocent; their careers were destroyed and lives ruined by his blatant effort to intimidate. McCarran is remembered now for infringing upon and disregarding due process.
Las Vegas’s main airport was named McCarran to honor his work establishing the US Air Force and to commemorate his role passing important airline regulations. But we can’t ignore the darker aspects of the man’s legacy. I liken it to the Confederate flag flying over the state Capitol in South Carolina – it disrespects citizens who, if he had his way, would never have been allowed in our community.
In 2017, I sponsored a bill to attach former US Senator Harry Reid’s name to the airport. The retired Democratic Majority Leader did more for Nevada than any other political leader in state history. He fought to protect the environment, healthcare, home ownership, and jobs as a representative for all Nevadans.
Reid’s career in national office lasted for 34 years. If not for his fierce opposition to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission there would be nuclear waste storage at Yucca Mountain, a plan which posed a dire threat to every Las Vegan’s health.
As the Senate majority leader during President Obama’s first six years in office, Reid shepherded key bills into law, including the stimulus plan that saved or created about 34,000 jobs in Nevada during the 2009 economic recession. Thanks to his work, over one million Nevadans received tax relief—$1.5 billion went to vital institutions like police departments, schools, and infrastructure projects.
One of the loudest voices in Washington on the threat posed by climate change, Reid advanced ushered in several laws that reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and promote renewable energy through tax incentives.
In reaction to the predatory lending that caused the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis, the Senator galvanized support for the Foreclosure Prevention Act of 2008, which provided federal aid to redevelop foreclosed homes and helped borrowers get access to refinancing for their loans. The housing crisis’ perpetrators were held accountable under Reid’s watch, too; he co-sponsored a bill making it easier to prosecute mortgage fraud, closing loopholes and empowering law enforcement.
There is no need to wait to honor Harry Reid’s career, especially as McCarran’s values look increasingly embarrassing and out of touch in the clear light of history.
Clark County is proud of its diversity, its tolerance and social integration, At an airport that receives 60 million visitors a year – the fifth busiest in the US – we should honor a person who represented these values.