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Larry Pressler: Farewell to my LDS missionary, friend and colleague, Sen. Harry Reid

On Thursday, Dec. 8, I went to my favorite marble-pillared room in Washington —the Old Senate Caucus room — where Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was bid farewell after thirty years in the US Senate. Remarks were offered by everyone from Mitch McConnell, Vice-President Biden, former Senator Hillary Clinton, and many others. A huge throng of people filled the old Senate building.

This colorful event reminded me that recently I was asked by my classmates at the 1971 Harvard Law School Reunion to make some remarks about Washington. To tease interest, I used a trivia question to engage my audience: “Who do you think was the greatest leader in the US Senate?” Perhaps to no one’s surprise, Senator Lyndon B. Johnson was the most popular answer. And, considering the significance of the civil rights legislation Johnson championed in the 1960s, who would contest the answer? Well, I did. Senator Reid is hands-down the most productive modern legislator. Harry Reid would not seek this distinction, but I give it to him, hands-down!

I served for twenty-two years as a Republican member of the House and Senate, paralleling Harry’s career. We did not always vote the same, but I always did like this quiet man whose private personality seemed to sometimes contradict his blustery public persona.

Senator Reid skillfully maneuvered the passage of the Dodd-Frank Financial Reform Bill, the Iran Nuclear Agreement, the Stimulus Bill, the Affordable Care Act, and a Tax Payer’s Bill of Rights and many budgetary agreements. In addition to national issues, Senator Reid passed a whole group of state and regional bills such as the Southern Nevada Public Lands Management Act — which became a boiler plate example subsequently used across the nation in environmental development.

This on its own is an impressive legislative history, but it is not the whole story. Senator Harry Reid managed to pass these important bills through Congressional gridlock that makes traffic on the D.C. beltway look like a pleasant diversion. Reid faced several hundred filibusters whereas Johnson faced less than a dozen. To my mind, this herculean feat puts Harry Reid above Lyndon B. Johnson in terms of efficiency and productivity in legislation.

Senator Harry Reid of tiny Searchlight, Nevada, had his portrait hung in our nation’s capital, and there it will stay to the last days of our Republic. Some are surprised this deeply religious Mormon has been an advocate of many liberal causes. I have served with approximately twelve LDS Senators; about half were Republicans and half were Democrats. Frank Moss (D-Utah) was just finishing up when I arrived in Washington, and Morris Udall (D-Arizona) was the liberal democratic leader in the house. Harry Reid is certainly an excellent example of a Mormon in the Senate that keeps the separation of Church and State in mind.

I still maintain friendships from my days in the Senate with both Republicans and Democrats, but I would rank Harry Reid as my closest friend. It was he who encouraged me to pursue the Book of Mormon. It was he, perhaps more than any other person, that brought me to praying better and knowing my God better. He is an LDS home teacher and very active in his church. Professionally, personally, spiritually, Harry Reid is one of the finest Americans. I dearly hope that history will give him the recognition he deserves — the greatest Senate leader of our time.

These are just a few of the titles attributed to Senator Reid on the solemn occasion of his retirement and the hanging of his official portrait in the US Capitol. Harry Reid: United States Senator. United States Congressman. Lieutenant Governor of Nevada. Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission. Liberal. Conservative. Democrat (and friend to many a Republican). Sometimes irascible. Member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Boxer. Assassination target. Loving husband of Landra. Father of five. Majority and Minority Leader of the United States Senate. A quiet, constant missionary for the LDS Church.

Senator Larry Pressler was a U.S. senator for 18 years and congressman for 4 years. He is a Rhodes Scholar, Harvard Law graduate and a Vietnam Veteran.