Maybe Harry Reid is trying so hard for amnesty because he owes his developer "friends" cheap labor.

Harry Mason Reid was born in Searchlight, Nevada, a mining town 60 miles south of Las Vegas, in December 1939. His father was a hand-to-mouth hard-rock miner; his mother never made it past the eighth grade. He had three brothers; the family of six lived in a cabin with no indoor plumbing. He attended a two-room elementary school in Searchlight that had one teacher for all eight grades. Young Harry had to travel to Henderson to attend Basic High School; he boarded with local families during the school week, then returned to Searchlight on the weekends.

At Basic High, Harry Reid's future was, basically, formed. He was elected student body president. His senior history teacher was Mike O'Callahan. And he met Landra Gould. Harry, a junior, and Landra, a sophomore, started dating. (They were married in 1959; in 1961, they had their first child and only girl, Lana. Harry and Landa also have four sons: Rory, Leif, Josh, and Key.)

Reid attended Southern Utah State College on a partial athletic scholarship (boxing), receiving his Associate's degree in 1958. He earned his bachelor's degree, with majors in history and political science, from Utah State University in 1960. The Reids then moved to Washington, D.C., where Harry attended law school at George Washington University. To support himself and his family, he worked for the U.S. Capitol Police as a cop. Graduating in 1964, Harry and his family returned to Nevada, where he worked for a few years as a lawyer, including a stint as the Henderson City Attorney. He parlayed that job into election to the Nevada State Assembly in 1968, at age 28.

This is where Reid entered big-time politics and he's been a career politician ever since -- nearly 40 years. Naturally, he's had his fair share of power struggles, controversies, scandals, apologies, and triumphs.

Anyway, in 1970, his high school teacher Mike O'Callaghan ran for governor; 30-year-old Reid ran for lieutenant governor. They both won and Harry became the youngest lieutenant governor in Nevada history.

In 1974, he ran for the U.S. Senate seat, losing by less than 600 votes to former Nevada governor Paul Laxalt.

In 1977 Reid was appointed Chairman of the Nevada Gaming Commission, a post he held for five tumultuous years, at a time when organized crime was being hounded out of Las Vegas for good. In the process, Reid went head to head with Frank "Lefty" Rosenthal, whose temper tantrum at a hearing where he lost his casino work card is legendary around here. Reportedly, Reid's life was threatened on several occasions; he's been quoted as saying, "They put bombs on my car, there were threatening phone calls at night, people tried to bribe me and went to jail."

In the early '80s, Reid returned to private practice for a few years, then won the first of two terms in the U. S. House of Representatives in 1982. He ran again for the Senate in 1986 and won, succeeding Laxalt. He was re-elected in 1992, then narrowly defeated his Republican opponent, John Ensign, in 1998. (Ensign won Nevada's other Senate seat in 2000). In 1999, Reid became Minority Whip, serving under Minority Leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota. He was re-elected to his fourth Senate term in 2004 and was unanimously elected the Senate Minority Leader by Democrats. He became the majority leader in 2006 after the Democrats took control of Congress.

Today, Harry Reid is one of the most powerful politicians in the country.

His style is rather bland; he's soft-spoken, but fairly forceful, especially now that he has so much seniority and authority. His effectiveness is in his willingness to dive into the mundane details of getting things done, rather than any dynamic presence or charisma that he can claim. He has a reputation as a "relationship builder" -- meaning he's expert in backroom politics and quid pro quo.

His record on issues has been moderately Democratic through the years. On national issues, he voted for both the Gulf War resolution in 1991 and the Iraq war resolution in 2002, though lately he's been critical of the war. He has opposed the tax cuts passed since George W. Bush took office. He voted in favor of the ban on partial-birth abortions and does not approve of same-sex marriage (though he's against a constitutional amendment defining marriage), but he's a strong supporter of the death penalty, including executing minors. He has a mixed record on gun control, voting against the ban on assault weapons, but in favor of the Brady Bill and background checks at gun shows. He tends to protect the mining industry from environmental regulation.

He's always been a strong advocate for Nevada. He's one of the most vociferous critics of the Yucca Mountain nuclear-waste repository. He considers Great Basin National Park "his" park, after working hard to establish it. He also put in long hard hours straightening out Lake Tahoe's water-allocation controversy, divvying it up among various northern Nevada interests. He's tireless in securing funding for Nevada highways and alternative transportation, as well as for Nevada military installations.

As for black marks on his record, he's had a little trouble with accusations of patronage. In 2003, an article in the Los Angeles Times reported that a bill introduced by Reid, the Clark County Conservation of Public Land and Natural Resources Act of 2002, would provide "a cavalcade of benefits to real-estate developers, corporations, and local institutions that were paying hundreds of thousands of dollars in lobbying fees to his sons' and son-in-law's firms." (One Nevada law firm employs all four of Reid's sons; his sons and son-in-law "have represented almost every industry in Nevada; all of them seek Reid's help on federal matters.") Reid later banned family members from lobbying anyone in his office.

Reid is also a champion of Harvey Whittemore, a lobbyist and developer who, with Reid's help, has assembled a large amount of land for his massive Coyote Springs development north of Las Vegas. At one point, Reid proposed that Whittemore be given government land for free; Whittemore subsequently paid $10 million for it.

Reid was also touched by the Jack Abramoff lobbying scandal. He reportedly received money from Abramoff's office, which he has refused to return.

And recent revelations have found that Reid used campaign donations to pay bonuses for staffers of a condominium he owns. He said he'd pay back the bonus money, which totaled $3,300.

Harry and Landra Reid still own a house in Searchlight, though they live most of the year in Washington. They have 16 grandchildren.

If you want to find out even more about Sen. Reid and his life, in his own words, you may be in luck: As reported in Today's News earlier this week, Harry Reid has just announced plans to publish his memoirs, co-authored with Esquire Executive Editor Mark Warren, in spring 2008. Apparently, the book will intertwine his own story, particularly his early life of abject poverty in Searchlight, "a place that boasted of thirteen brothels and no churches," with the cautionary tale of contemporary Washington, D.C. "If I can do nothing greater in this book than explain those two places to each other, then I will have done something important," he commented in a recent press release about the project.