01/27/2006 12:00AM

No sin to accept neighborly support

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Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nev.) has come a long way from his tiny hometown of Searchlight, 60 miles south of Las Vegas, to become a very powerful Senate Minority Leader. He leads the Democratic Party in keeping a watchful eye on the Republican Party, and in return the spotlight has intensified upon him.

Sen. Reid has come under scrutiny for accepting campaign contributions from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff. The contributions came from certain Indian gaming interests that Abramoff represented.

Many politicians are returning contributions that originated from Abramoff, and the taint of having a relationship with Abramoff is a potential powder keg in future elections.

Sen. Reid, however, has looked into the contributions Abramoff made to him and has refused to back down. He insists the contributions were legal and involved no impropriety on his part. In fact, Sen. Reid has invited the Senate Ethics Committee to look into the matter and clear him of any wrongdoing.

What must be understood is the basic premise that a politician is elected to represent the wishes of his constituency. In the case of Sen. Reid, the gaming industry and protecting it, locally and nationally, is a big part of what he does in Washington.

There is a reason why in Nevada there is no personal income tax, that tax rates are relatively low and the quality of life high. It comes mainly from a prospering gaming and tourism industry.

Reid's opponents are pointing out that his main campaign contributors are all high-profile casino companies. According to OpenSecrets.com, in 2005 Reid's top three contributions came from MGM Mirage ($158,450), Mandalay Resort Group ($130,100), and Harrah's Entertain-ment ($93,100).

What critics fail to acknowledge is that any senator will have a preponderance of contributions from the top industries within his state. The Michigan senators will have the backing of the automobile industry. The Texas senators will receive money from the oil and energy sectors. Why would it be any different in Nevada, where gaming and tourism is number one?

When politicians campaign by saying they are running against big business interests, that's when you should should start eyeing them with skepticism. Big business just happens to be the largest employers within your state. Now if big business is doing something illegal, like Enron, go after them. But if it's a good neighbor who employs thousands of your residents, then you do what Sen. Reid does for Nevada. And you shouldn't have to apologize for it.

Richard Eng is the turf editor for the Las Vegas Review-Journal and host of the Race Day Las Vegas Wrap Up radio show.