The occasion was Senator Reid's annual address to the Nevada State Legislature. The Reno Gazette-Journal provides the best coverage, although the Carson City Nevada Appeal is located at the state capital. During his speech, Senator Reid addressed education, the folly of term limits, and renewable energy. He touted the stimulus as having cut taxes for more than a million Nevadans and keeping teachers in the classroom. He even claimed that the stimulus secured for Nevada a bigger increase in Medicaid match funding than every other state in the union. He also justified TARP, saying "...I’ll never forget the meeting we had – just a handful of us – with President Bush’s Secretary of the Treasury, Hank Paulson, and Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke. I’ll never forget sitting in that room on that Thursday when they told us how close we were to not having an economy on Monday. They told us what we needed to do to save ourselves. And acting as partners rather than partisans, we did it".
Read the full transcript of Senator Reid's speech as one page HERE.
But it was a small part of the speech that triggered the greatest controversy and attracted the media interest. In a state where legalized prostitution is one of the leading industries, Senator Reid called upon the state legislature to abolish it. Here's the key excerpt:
I recently met with a group of businessmen who run data centers for technology companies. They visited Storey County to see about opening a facility there, a move that would have created desperately needed jobs.
Storey County does a lot of things right. It’s the home of the Tahoe-Reno Industrial Center, which is the largest of its kind in the country. But one of the businessmen in that meeting told me he simply couldn’t believe that one of the biggest businesses in the county he was considering for his new home is legal prostitution. I’ve talked to families who feel the same way – parents who don't want their children to look out of a school bus and see a brothel. Or to live in a state with the wrong kind of red lights.
So let’s have an adult conversation about an adult subject. Nevada needs to be known as the first place for innovation and investment – not as the last place where prostitution is still legal. When the nation thinks about Nevada, it should think about the world’s newest ideas and newest careers – not about its oldest profession.
We should do everything we can to make sure the world holds Nevada in the same high regard you and I do. If we want to attract business to Nevada that puts people back to work, the time has come for us to outlaw prostitution.
KTNV Channel 13 reports that it's the illegal enterprises operating in Las Vegas that should be branded with the bullseye. "What's giving Nevada a black eye are the peddlers in Las Vegas, shoving fliers and business cards in people's faces, families' faces, advertising girls to your rooms," said Debbie Rivenburgh, General Manager of The Chicken Ranch in Nye County. Rivenburgh points out that her girls work by strict standards in a safe environment to perform legalized sex acts. The majority of big spenders mainly tourists, seek out the rural location just outside of Pahrump from outside Nye County.
The economic timing of this message may not be the best; the state's largest city still hasn't shaken off the effects of the recession. The Las Vegas Sun reports that the price of homes in their area is still declining; the median single-family home price during January was $125,000, a 58 percent decline from the April 2006 peak and a level not seen since 1999.
Perhaps this is one reason why Reid's message has not been well-received so far. Some brothel owners in attendance were already devising their strategy to block such a move. Another said owners they should relax, since Reid can’t outlaw Nevada’s legal prostitution; only the state or individual counties can do that. Lance Gilman, owner of the Wild Horse and Mustang Ranch brothels in Storey County, said “It is one thing for Harry Reid to say we ought to outlaw brothels. It is quite another for our Legislature to decided to take up a bill. If that happens then it is a whole different scenario.” Gilman's complete statement is available HERE. Dennis Hof, owner of the Moonlight Bunny Ranch and Love Ranch brothels, estimates that outlawing prostitution would cost 1,500 jobs statewide. Assemblyman Ira Hansen (R-Sparks) agreed that brothels should be outlawed, but advised Reid to start in his own county first.
An unscientific poll in the Sun shows that Reid's message went over like a lead balloon. Out of 6,047 respondents so far, 80 percent say brothels should not be outlawed. An unscientific poll by KRNV Channel 4 shows similar results; 85 percent of respondents oppose outlawing prostitution in Nevada.
Invariably, some people will ask why Senator Reid, a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, tolerated prostiution in Nevada for so long, and is only now making an issue of it. One commenter to the Nevada Appeal asked this question:
dagwood92 9:03 PM on 2/22/2011:
Why now, Harry? How come you never challenged legal prostitution during your previous four terms in the senate, and your time in the House, too? You had ample time during Nevada's economic boom years to call down the thunder. Why now? Do you really, honestly believe that Nevada's legal brothels will keep businesses from relocating to the Silver State? Funny, the cathouses didn't turn away the scores of investors and entrepreneurs who flooded Nevada with money during the Nineties and early 2000s. They came regardless. What has changed, except the state of the economy?
I think the senator is overreacting. The system Nevada has in place to permit rural counties from making the decision works well. Urban counties are already out of the question, per state law.
Senator Reid has not yet answered that question. One must wonder if he would have been re-elected had he raised this issue during the 2010 election campaign; Sharron Angle almost took him down as it was.