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Drive to Designate Road for Reagan Gathers Speed

By Nikita Stewart
Sunday, January 23, 2005; Page C04

A portion of the Route 234 Bypass around Manassas would be named the Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Highway under a bill introduced last week in the General Assembly and given a good chance of passage by area lawmakers.

"Get camera ready for a road marker that says, 'Ronald Wilson Reagan Memorial Highway,' " said Dana Fenton, the county's legislative liaison.

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So far, there have been no objections to the designation that would honor the 40th president, who died of Alzheimer's disease in June. But some local officials have asked: Why Reagan?

When Del. L. Scott Lingamfelter (R-Prince William) introduced his bill to name the roadway, he said he sponsored it because Reagan -- a native of Illinois who made California his home -- was fond of horses and Civil War battlefields. And Reagan was an occasional trail rider through Manassas National Battlefield Park.

Prince William is a perfect fit, he said.

Last week, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors voted to endorse the bill renaming the road. The supervisors also voted to request a "friendly amendment" that would allow state roads to be named for people who were residents or had strong ties there.

Renaming highways, buildings and landmarks for Reagan has sometimes been controversial, as was adding his name to National Airport.

"The drive to memorialize Reagan is a political effort," Jeffrey C. Isaac, a political science professor at Indiana University, said in an e-mail interview. "Our political system is now highly partisan, and this effort is a partisan one."

The Ronald Reagan Legacy Project wants a major landmark in every state and county in the country named for the president. The group currently counts 61 in 22 states, including Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport in Arlington.

Christopher Butler, executive director of the project, said there should not be any controversy.

"He was one of this country's greatest presidents," Butler said. "JFK (President Kennedy) has well over 800 (honors) in the United States. He's someone who was only president for a couple of years. Definitely, people have mixed feelings about him."

At last week's hearing, Supervisor John D. Jenkins (D-Neabsco) noted that other presidents have visited Prince William -- President Bill Clinton to play golf and President George H.W. Bush to visit Quantico Marine Base. But there is nothing named for them.

"I don't think this [the Reagan naming] was a well-thought-out thing," Jenkins said.

The friendly amendment lists several candidates for what supervisors said would be appropriate namesakes for the state to consider. "I think President George Washington obviously would be an excellent choice for a future designation," Chairman Sean T. Connaughton (R) said during a meeting last week to get public comment on the bill.

The nation's first president spent a lot of time along what is now Route 234 and even honeymooned in the county, Connaughton said.

Outgoing Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the first African American to hold the position, lived in Prince William in the 1970s, and his children attended county schools. He would also be a good choice, Connaughton said. The supervisors are submitting more names for the amendment, he said.

Del. C.L. "Clay" Athey Jr. (R-Fauquier), who co-sponsored the bill with Lingamfelter, said, "Certainly, all of these people are great people."

But there must be a limit, he said. "Things like this can become over-politicized."

Reagan should be honored for his place in history, Athey said. "He will be remembered forever as the president who advocated for the military arms buildup that bankrupted the Soviet Union."

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