Pat McCarran

The most powerful Nevadan ever?

 

PATRICK ANTHONY MCCARRAN

As you probably know the Clark County Commissioners are considering changing the name of McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid Airport.  The reasons given by the news media, Patrick McCarran’s “Anti-Immigration and Anti-Semitism.

For those that want to know more about Patrick Anthony McCarran I invite you to read on.  You may end up not liking Pat McCarran, but I do believe, if you keep an open mind you will end up at least respecting him.  You might even learn to admire the man that in his day was the most powerful U.S. Senator in the country and perhaps the most powerful U.S. Senator in history.

Pat McCarran was born in Reno, the child of Irish immigrants.  He grew-up on his Dad’s ranch located just 15 miles east of Reno.  He was one of the last of what Nevadan’s call, “saddle educated,” which meant he was a self-made and educated man.  His family taught him how to read and write until Pat could ride a horse to school at the age of ten.  Pat McCarran would go on to graduate as valedictorian in 1897, from Reno High School.  He attended the University of Nevada, Reno where he played “Blood Bath”, the name given to football at the time.  One semester away from graduating from UNR, McCarran had to drop out to work on his family’s sheep ranch, because of an injury his Dad had suffered.  McCarran went on to study law by reading law books, passed the bar and became a well know attorney.

Coming from Irish Immigrants and raised on a small ranch, his accomplishments in politics were nothing short amazing.  McCarran would be elected and serve as Nevada State Legislator, District Attorney, Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court, Chairman of the Nevada State Board of Parole Commissioners and finally in 1932, he would become the first elected native Nevada born U.S. Senator.  He would serve Nevada until his death in 1954.

As a freshman Senator and as a Democrat, he became well-known as one of the few Democrats who went against his own political party on many issues and was totally against many of the New Deal policies of President Roosevelt.  As a freshman Senator this normally would mean political suicide.  But McCarran was hard-working, head strong, likable and a great orator.  His senate colleagues considered him a maverick and was respected by both parties.

Although elected as a Democrat, McCarran was in most part conservative, which at the time mirrored most Nevadan’s. He took a strong anti-Communist stance and was a proponent of tighter restrictions on admission to the United States to become a citizen.   He believed in a strong military defense, “to be prepared for the Godless Communists.”

Early in his Nevada political career he was a strong proponent for an eight-hour work week, unions and sided with miners striking in Goldfield in 1907, where he was branded “a radical” by his political opponents.  Ironically, later McCarran would advocate for and pass what is now Nevada’s “Right-to-Work and anti-union laws” that are still in existence today.

Pat McCarran was a “head strong know where he stood” kind of guy.  He never forgot a favor and he also never forgot those who stabbed him in the back.  No matter how long it took, McCarran always got even.  But he was also a man of great generosity to the “down and out,” and why the common working man loved Pat McCarran.

Pat McCarran was known for dispensing thousands of favors to the so-called little people whom he loved and understood so well from his meeker beginnings.   McCarran used is power and influence to bring millions of federal dollars to Nevada for projects all over the state, which put thousands of Nevadans’ to work.  McCarran also used his political power and positions to fight successfully against the federal government’s gaming tax proposal which obviously was an attempt at killing Nevada’s gaming industry.

He had an administration policy that was never broken. If a Nevadan wrote a letter to him, the letter would be answered the same day and there were no exceptions.  If action or a decision had to be taken on a letter in one way or another it was taken the next day. The action taken was not always favorable to the letter writer, but the Nevadan would always know where Pat McCarran stood within twenty-four hours.

He was a man of loyalty to a fault. This was reflected in McCarran’s staunch support of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.  His loyalty would hurt his reputation again while he was chairman of the Judiciary Committee.  Although warned not to, he appointed his friend, Senator James Eastland, a well-known white supremacist, and segregationist, as chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on Civil rights.  Although McCarran did not share Eastland’s views, he was a friend and he had promised him this chairmanship.  Politically he couldn’t have made a worse choice.

Hank Greenspun was the owner and newspaper editor of the powerful Las Vegas Sun, and he despised Pat McCarran and made no bones about it.  Greenspun wrote many editorials alleging McCarran was everything from corrupt Senator to hater of Jews.  Article after article Greenspun went after McCarran without mercy.  The hatred was mutual, McCarran in retaliation against Greenspun, McCarran made many comments about Greenspun and he didn’t mix his words.

But why does a man that is supposed to be a racist sponsor a bill with fellow Senator Francis Walter in 1952 that abolishes racial restrictions in immigration that had been in place since 1952?  The same McCarran-Walter Act that abolished racial discrimination against immigrants coming to America also imposed rigid quotas on immigrants entering the United States and made in easier to deport dangerous illegal aliens.

Were the accusations true about McCarran’s being Anti-Semitic?  That’s for you to decide, but I will tell you that the Anti-Semitic lapel put on the back of McCarran was elevated by all the editorials written by Hank Greenspun and the bad choices out of loyalty that McCarran made during his political career.

At the peak of Pat McCarran senate power, it was said by his Senate colleges that Pat McCarran was so powerful, that if he wanted too, he could introduce a bill calling for the execution of the President of the United States and he could get twenty votes to pass that bill without a sweat.

MCCARRAN’S LASTING ACHIEVEMENTS

McCarran believed that aviation was America’s future both militarily and commercially.  Without a doubt, McCarran’s greatest achievements was his vision and advocacy for aviation.

McCarran was the first advocate for the Air Force becoming its’ own separate component from the Army and sponsored that legislation in 1933.

McCarran wrote and sponsored aviation related legislations including the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and Civilian Pilot Training Act of 1939.  The CAA created the Civil Aeronautics Authority, the predecessor to the Federal Aviation Administration.  More than any other federal aviation legislation ever enacted, the CAA shaped the passenger aviation industry as we know today.  It gave the federal government authority to regulate airline fares as well as to determine routes that air carriers would serve and establish airports.  The act also expanded the role of the government in in the areas of airway development, aircraft safety, and accident investigation.

The civilian Pilot Training Act directly led to the training of thousands of pilots during the early years of World War II.

McCarran lobbied successfully for the building of Nellis Air Force Base in southern Nevada.  In 1945 he sponsored the Federal Airport Act which appropriated the funds to build an airport in Las Vegas.

Because McCarran’s countless contributions to aviation the airport was named McCarran Field in his honor.  The name was changed later to McCarran International Airport.

Let’s be honest, when we talk about changing the name of the airport from McCarran International Airport to Harry Reid Airport, the Board and we as Nevadan’s have, to ask ourselves the question.  Does all that Patrick McCarran did for Nevada and his accomplishments outweigh the accusations of Anti-Semitism and Anti-Immigration that are put upon him today; and does Harry Reid’s accomplishments earn him the right to have his name put upon the Las Vegas Airport instead?

I am a self-proclaimed Nevada historian and researcher.  I haven’t learned enough about Harry Reid to know if he deserves his name upon the Las Vegas Airport.

I can tell you, if any Nevada Senator deserves his name on anything to do with aviation or an airport, it is Patrick Anthony McCarran.

The three stories below about Pat McCarran I think give you a more realistic view of who and why Patrick McCarran was Patrick McCarran and why Nevadan’s loved him.

THE KID THAT CAME TO WASHINGTON

When Pat McCarran was a U.S. Senator in Washington D.C. a young man came to visit McCarran in Washington. The young man came into McCarran’s office, and explained he was looking for a job in the Airline Industry and was hoping McCarran could give him some contact names in the industry. McCarran without hesitation picked up the phone and called Pan American Airlines and asked for the chairman of the board. The secretary told McCarran that the chairman was in a meeting. McCarran told her, “I don’t give a damn where he is, I want to talk to him, and I want to talk to him now.” In less than a half an hour the chairman of the board called McCarran back. After a conversation with McCarran, the chairman offered the young man an interview with his personnel director at their New York office. McCarran replied, “No, you have your personnel director come to Washington, and he can do the interview right here in my office.” Lo and behold the personnel director did come to Washington, did the interview and the young man was hired by Pan American Airlines.

THE JUDGESHIP

When Pat McCarran was in his youth, he drank a lot and got into many fights.  One of those times as a young man Pat McCarran got drunk in a mining saloon. Not surprisingly Pat got into a brawl with some of the saloon patrons. The local Sheriff hauled him out of the saloon but instead of throwing Pat in jail, the Sheriff took the young McCarran to his home. The Sheriff’s wife cooked them both dinner and gave McCarran a place to “sleep it off” for the night. No one knows what was said to McCarran, but the Sheriff let him go without arresting him and it made a deep impression on the young McCarran.

Years passed and Pat McCarran became the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee which oversaw all the U.S. Federal Judgeships. Lo and behold a Federal Judgeship became available in San Francisco.

As it was customary, the local Bar Association would normally recommend one or two persons they felt could fill the job. It was also customary for the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to rubber stamp their recommendation. But this was Pat McCarran. McCarran told the local Bar Association that he thought the son of a friend of his from Nevada, who was a Superior Court Judge in the area, should receive the position.

With much protest the local Bar Association refused to approve the McCarran nomination. McCarran in a friendly statement told the local Bar Association that if that was the case there would not be any Federal Judges appointed in San Francisco, or for that matter any appointed in the United States.  Pat McCarran being the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he was the sole person responsible for setting up meetings for the Committee. For three months McCarran didn’t set any Committee meetings. This started a backlog of needed Federal Judges all over the United States.

The local Bar Association finally gave into McCarran and approved the son of his friend from Nevada for the judgeship in San Francisco.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it was the son of the Sheriff that did the future U.S. Senator a favor many years ago, when McCarran was just a young lad.

WITH ONE PHONE CALL

Hank Greenspun was the owner and newspaper editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and he despised Pat McCarran. Greenspun wrote many editorials alleging McCarran was everything from corrupt to anti-Semitic, and went so far as calling him the “Old Buzzard.”

Greenspun openly supported Thomas Mechling a Democrat running against Alan Bible, who was supported by McCarran. As it turned out, Mechling won the Democratic primary, but lost in the open election against George Malone, a Republican running for re-election.

McCarran had enough of Hank Greenspun and his newspaper. With one phone call to Las Vegas, every Las Vegas Casino owner with the exception of Benny Binion, pulled all their advertising from the Las Vegas Sun. McCarran’s plan was to break Greenspun forever. As it turned out Greenspun was able to produce evidence of the phone call, and the casino owners again began advertising in the Las Vegas Sun. The idea that a man could make one phone call, which led to all but one casino pulling out their ads, shows what a powerful and influential man Pat McCarran had become.

Pat McCarran dropped dead of a heart attack while giving a speech in Hawthorne in 1954. His funeral was attended by thousands from the lowly buckaroo to the wealthy.

His legacy is controversial, but the one thing that is undisputable, Pat McCarran was always on the side of Nevada. His support of Nevada mining, ranching and gaming helped shape the future of our great State.

Pat McCarran is considered by many to be the most powerful politician in Nevada history but many believe as I do that Pat McCarran as a U.S. Senator, in his day, was the most powerful man in America.

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We have named roads and airports in his honor, but most Nevadans don’t know who Pat McCarran was. I have heard and read many stories about Pat McCarran over the years; I hope the stories you are about to read will give you an insight to who and what Pat McCarran was.

U.S. Senator: 1933-1954

Born: Reno, Nevada in 1876

Education: University of Nevada, Reno

Pat McCarran was born in Reno, the child of Irish immigrants. He grew-up on his Dad’s sheep ranch located 15 miles east of Reno. Growing up McCarran was involved in many fights. This behavior continued as a young man.

Pat McCarran was one of the last of what Nevadan’s call, “saddle educated,” which meant he was a self made man who read and learned while working on his father’s sheep ranch.

McCarran became an attorney, Nevada State legislator, District Attorney, a Nevada Chief Justice, Chairman of the Nevada State Board of Parole Commissioners, and served on the State board of Bar Examiners.

After two unsuccessful bids in 1916 and 1926, McCarran was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1932, the first native Nevada born U.S. Senator. McCarran became well-known as one of the few Democrats who went against his own political party; and was totally against the New Deal policies of President Roosevelt. As a freshman Senator this normally would mean political suicide. But McCarran was considered a maverick, hard working, head strong and respected by both political parties.

Although elected as a Democrat McCarran was in most part a conservative. He took a very strong anti-Communist stance and was a proponent of tighter restrictions on entry and admission to the United States to become a citizen. Isn’t it amazing that this issue is still at the forefront of American politics today?

Pat McCarran was a “head strong know where he stood” kind of guy. He never forgot a favor. But he also never forgot those who stabbed him in the back, no matter how long it took, he always got even. He was also a man of generosity to the “down and out,” and a man of loyalty to a fault. This is reflected in McCarran’s staunch support of Senator Joseph McCarthy of Wisconsin.

Pat McCarran came to be a powerful U.S. Senator. It was said he could introduce a bill calling for the execution of the President of the United States and get twenty votes to pass the bill.

He became chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee and was a ranking member of the Appropriations Committee. So in fact he had two powerful positions that controlled much of the legislation that went to or through Congress. Pat McCarran was known for dispensing thousands of favors to the so-called little people whom he understood so well.

He had an administration policy that was never broken. If a Nevadan wrote a letter to him, the letter would be answered the same day and there were no exceptions. If action had to be taken on the letter in one way or another it was taken the next day. The action taken was not always favorable to the letter writer, but the Nevadan would always know where Pat McCarran stood within twenty-four hours. Even if you disliked him or disapproved the view he took, you had to respect that kind of guy. Don’t you wish we had politicians like him today?

There are many Pat McCarran stories. Here are a few that I have heard or read over the years.

 

THE KID THAT CAME TO WASHINGTON

 

When Pat McCarran was a U.S. Senator in Washington D.C. a young man came to visit McCarran in Washington. The young man came into McCarran’s office, and explained he was looking for a job in the Airline Industry and was hoping McCarran could give him some contact names in the industry. McCarran without hesitation picked up the phone and called Pan American Airlines and asked for the chairman of the board. The secretary told McCarran that the chairman was in a meeting. McCarran told her, “I don’t give a damn where he is, I want to talk to him and I want to talk to him now.” In less than a half an hour the chairman of the board called McCarran back. After a conversation with McCarran, the chairman offered the young man an interview with his personnel director at their New York office. McCarran replied, “No, you have your personnel director come to Washington, and he can do the interview right here in my office.” Lo and behold the personnel director did come to Washington, did the interview and the young man was hired by Pan American Airlines.

 

THE JUDGESHIP

 

When Pat McCarran was a young man he got drunk in a mining saloon. Not surprisingly Pat got into a brawl with some of the saloon patrons. The local Sheriff hauled him out of the saloon but instead of throwing Pat in jail, the Sheriff took the young McCarran to his home. The Sheriff’s wife cooked them both dinner and gave McCarran a place to “sleep it off” for the night. No one knows what was said to McCarran, but the Sheriff let him go without arresting him.

Years passed and Pat McCarran became the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee which oversaw all of the U.S. Federal Judgeships. Lo and behold a Federal Judgeship became available in San Francisco. As it was customary, the local Bar Association would normally recommend one or two persons they felt could fill the job. It was also customary for the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee to rubber stamp their recommendation. But this was Pat McCarran. McCarran told the local Bar Association that he thought the son of a friend of his from Nevada, who was a Superior Court Judge in the area, should receive the position.

With much protest the local Bar Association refused to approve the McCarran nomination. McCarran in a friendly statement told the local Bar Association that if that was the case there wouldn’t be any Federal Judges appointed in San Francisco, or for that matter any appointed in the United States. Pat McCarran being the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee was the sole person responsible for setting up meetings for the Committee. So, for three months McCarran didn’t set any Committee meetings. This started a backlog of needed Federal Judges all over the United States.

The local Bar Association finally gave into McCarran and approved the son of his friend from Nevada for the judgeship in San Francisco.

If you haven’t guessed by now, it was the son of the Sheriff that did the future U.S. Senator a favor many years ago, when McCarran was just a young lad.

 

WITH ONE PHONE CALL

 

Hank Greenspun was the owner and newspaper editor of the Las Vegas Sun, and he despised Pat McCarran. Greenspun wrote many editorials alleging McCarran was everything from corrupt to anti-Semitic, and went so far as calling him the “Old Buzzard.”

Greenspun openly supported Thomas Mechling a Democrat running against Alan Bible, who was supported by McCarran. As it turned out, Mechling won the Democratic primary, but lost in the open election against George Malone, a Republican running for re-election.

McCarran had enough of Hank Greenspun and his newspaper. With one phone call to Las Vegas, every Las Vegas Casino owner with the exception of Benny Binion, pulled all their advertising from the Las Vegas Sun. McCarran’s plan was to break Greenspun forever. As it turned out Greenspun was able to produce evidence of the phone call, and the casino owners again began advertising in the Las Vegas Sun. The idea that a man could make one phone call, which led to all but one casino pulling out their ads, shows what a powerful and influential man Pat McCarran had become.

 

THE END

 

Pat McCarran dropped dead of a heart attack while giving a speech in Hawthorne in 1954. His funeral was attended by thousands from the lowly buckaroo to the wealthy.

His legacy is controversial, but the one thing that is undisputable, Pat McCarran was always on the side of Nevada. His support of Nevada mining, ranching and gaming helped shape the future of our great State.

Pat McCarran is considered by many to be the most powerful politician in Nevada history but many believe as I do that Pat McCarran as a U.S. Senator, in his day, was the most powerful man in America.

About the Author: Martin T. Smith

Besides being an authority on the Nevada state flag, Martin is the creator of 'The Nevada Trivia Game', author of "The Battle Born Nevada Trivia Book”, “The Nevada Battle Born Cookbook” and longtime owner of 'The Flag Store Sign & Banner' in Sparks, Nevada.