Photo By DENNIS MYERS Rightists who portray U.S. Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada as a flaming liberal have apparently never read his voting record.

The notion that there was a Nevada group forming called Republicans for Reid seemed to take some people by surprise, particularly given the prominence of some of the GOP names.

The 60-person group (posted on our Newsview blog) announced on June 3 included mayors and legislators, lobbyists and businesspeople. Some came with their own baggage and may be more troublesome than helpful to Reid.

Some commentary suggested that the Republicans in the group were mainly supporting Reid in order to preserve his clout for Nevada, and the heavily business-oriented nature of the list certainly provided evidence for that. Some of those on the list, such as former Reagan/Bush aide Sig Rogich, candidly confessed that such was the case.

A Congressional Quarterly writer named Kathleen Hunter offered a stereotyped woman-scorned suggestion that Dawn Gibbons was endorsing Reid in order to spite her estranged husband, Gov. Jim Gibbons, even though Nevada’s first lady has often expressed admiration for Reid in the past.

What almost no one included in their speculations was the notion that the folks on the list might actually agree with Reid on issues.

While Reid has become a demon to Republican rightists since he became majority leader, in fact his voting record has never been confused with that of Ted Kennedy. When he was still assistant majority leader under Tom Daschle, he was every Republican’s favorite Democrat, winning praise from his GOP colleagues in the Senate.

But once he became Senate majority leader with no Democrat in the White House, he became a lightning rod for evangelical conservatives who demonized him with stances he never took. His allies struck back, with both sides overstating their cases. As a result, his actual voting record got lost.

The Washington Post and other entities generally report that Reid votes with his fellow Democrats slightly more than 95 percent of the time. But that figure includes many technical or procedural measures. On policy-making votes it’s unlikely he would score that high. His voting record is generally middle of the road.

Among the votes or actions he has actually taken:

WORKING PEOPLE

• Reid has voted more than once to make bankruptcy more difficult, but has not taken action to curb predatory corporate financial practices.

• This year, after flagrantly anti-consumer conduct by credit card companies, he supported cracking down on them, but last year he failed to bring a similar House-passed measure to a vote, allowing another year of rapacious behavior by the companies.

• He voted with Republicans against cutting off debate on the 2007 Lily Ledbetter Equal Pay Act so that it could be voted on.

BIG BUSINESS

• Reid voted to limit class action lawsuits.

• He voted for the bill that removed regulation from financial services corporations, allowed them to move into other areas such as insurance, and allowed them to get “too big to fail,” a measure he blames for the Wall Street meltdown.

• He voted to ban lawsuits against gun manufacturers (2004).

• He voted to allow lawsuits against gun manufacturers (2005).

• He voted to permit lobbyists to give gifts to members of Congress.

CIVIL LIBERTIES

• Reid voted to make it easier to wiretap cell phone calls.

• He voted for the PATRIOT Act and for its modified renewal and has made no effort to repeal it outright.

• When Republicans were trying to give immunity to telecom companies that cooperated with Bush administration surveillance practices and to impose oversight protections, Reid failed to honor a “hold” on the measure by fellow Democrat Christopher Dodd (while honoring such holds by Republicans on other measures) and took other actions favoring Republican supporters over Democratic opponents.

• He prevented fellow Democrats from trying to stop the Real ID program (imposing federal driver licenses on the states), and though he said he opposed the measure, he never tried to repeal it.

• He voted several times for a constitutional amendment banning flag desecration.

CRIMINAL JUSTICE

• Reid has voted to curb death penalty appeals, including barring the use of racial statistics.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS/MILITARY SPENDING

• Reid voted to accelerate deployment of the “star wars” missile defense project.

• He voted at least 36 times to override presidential vetoes of military spending.

• He voted to keep NATO in business after the end of the Cold War and to enlarge its membership to include more nations.

• He voted to tighten the screws on Cuba through a tougher trade embargo, and he voted against easing travel restrictions for humanitarian reasons,

• He voted with Republicans against cutting off debate on a resolution disagreeing with George Bush’s conduct of the Iraq war so it could be voted on.

OTHER ISSUES

• Reid voted to prohibit same-gender marriage, though only in statute, not by constitutional amendment.

• He approved (while speaking for all Democrats in Senate) of federal intervention in the Schiavo right-to-die case (voice vote).

• He voted with Republicans against a hike in tobacco user fee with the money going to children’s health.

• He voted against extending the ban on ownership of assault weapons.

George McGovern he’s not. Those kinds of votes help account for ratings like these:

• He was given a failing grade (50 percent) by CURE, a criminal justice organization that promotes rehabilitation.

• He was given a failing grade by the American Civil Liberties Union (40 percent).

• He was given a failing grade by Planned Parenthood (57 percent).

• He just barely received a passing grade from Americans for Democratic Action (70 percent), a somewhat liberal group.

• He received a failing grade (57 percent) from the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization.

On the Washington Post “Votes Database,” which provides the most recent 100 votes of members of Congress, Reid voted with Republicans 41 times, though few of them were policy votes.

Reid has a more Democratic voting record on some other issues, particularly health care and immigration—and, surprisingly, the war on drugs. He has voted against increasing drug penalties and against using foreign aid funds to promote the war on drugs overseas.

His rankings from environmental groups tend to be less than stellar, but that is because he represents a mining state, and his mining votes undercut his overall environmental record. He has taken some genuine political risks to advance some green initiatives, including his opposition to any further coal fired plants.

The votes listed here are not meant to typify Reid’s voting, and it would certainly be possible to assemble a similar list that would appeal to Democrats. But that’s the point—Republicans demonizing him and Democrats lionizing him both misrepresent him. A fair cross section of all his votes shows he is basically a Democratic moderate. And for Republicans looking for a reason to support Reid, he has given them plenty to work with.

Editor’s note: The original version of this story reported that Sen. Reid “voted with Republicans on changes in the federal estate tax.” That information was incorrect.
-DCM

Avatar photo

Dennis Myers

Dennis Myers was the news editor of the Reno News & Review. He was a journalist for more than four decades. In 1987-88 he was chief deputy secretary of state of Nevada. He was coauthor of Uniquely...