A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about efforts by House Republicans to give Gravelly Point Park a new name: Nancy Reagan Memorial Park. The response from readers was pretty uniform, as in this email from Peter Kelly of Arlington, Va.: “I believe we should respond as Nancy Reagan would have responded — ‘Just say no.’ ”
Of course, the sampling of reader reaction is not necessarily representative of the country as a whole. Who knows the feelings of the people in Georgia, where the sponsor of the legislation, Rep. Jody Hice (R), is from? Though as John Hicks of Hyattsville, Md., wrote: “Maybe we could work a deal with the state of Georgia to accept the name Gravelly Mountain to replace Stone Mountain.”
Stone does eventually turn into gravel. That would just be getting a jump on things.
Bill Blumenauer of Bethesda, Md., said he is against all of this renaming. “I still fly in and out of National and Friendship airports,” he wrote. “If I flew in and out of New York, it would be Idlewild. Not only have I not gotten over the renaming of Constantinople as Istanbul (1923), I haven’t even gotten over the renaming of Byzantium as Constantinople (324 A.D.).”
I wonder whether Bill still writes “Pangaea” on his return address.
All joking aside, most of the readers who got in touch with me wanted to know the same thing: Is there anything that can be done to stop this governmental overreach?
I asked Rep. Don Beyer (D) of Virginia’s 8th District.
“I do think writing the Northern Virginia congressional delegation — Gerry Connolly, Barbara Comstock, Rob Wittman and me — makes sense,” he said. “Being able to cite phone calls and incoming emails and letters is helpful. It does change people’s minds.”
Republicans Comstock and Wittman are co-sponsors of the H.R. 553 legislation. Connolly, a Democrat, is against it. Beyer is against it, too, or at least wants the matter to have local input.
The bill — requested, Beyer said, by Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform fame — passed the House Natural Resources Committee on party lines, 18 to 16. Beyer said it is doubtful that it will be discussed or voted on by the full House anytime soon.
“The greater danger of the park being renamed is if they slip it into a must-pass appropriations bill,” he said. “That’s the dark-of-night kind of thing where a bill that everyone’s for has an extra line or two slipped in.”
Beyer said opponents must be vigilant that that does not happen. He added that, whenever possible, local and state governments should make decisions involving local and state things.
“They’re closest to the people,” he said. “This flies in the face of that.”
Hice does not see what the fuss is about, saying he first raised the issue nearly two years ago. “If [Beyer] had such grave concerns about the renaming of Gravelly Point Park, I’m uncertain as to why he did not air them with me personally at some point during the many months following its introduction,” Hice said in a statement.
Beyer himself, Hice said, has co-sponsored bills involving national lands in other districts. Said Hice: “Unless he is in the business of the continued memorialization of sediment deposits, which I do not believe is the case, his pushback is disingenuous, and I can only think that his opposition to the renaming of this park is an attempt to politicize an otherwise very noncontroversial first lady in a cheap ploy to win partisan support in his district.”
(Beyer’s staff said Beyer contacted Hice when the bill was going before the committee but Hice dismissed his concerns.)
It is true Gravelly Point takes its name from a somewhat pedestrian — though vitally important — material.
In my original column, I wondered, somewhat in jest, whether the Father of Our Country gave it that name.
Dan Brown of Arlington, Va., wrote: “Based on the proximity to Abingdon Plantation, you may not be far from the mark.”
Abingdon was a plantation just up the Potomac from Mount Vernon. The Alexander family — the namesakes of Alexandria, Va. — sold it in 1778 to John Parke Custis, George Washington’s stepson. (Reagan National Airport sits there now.) Washington surely would have been familiar with the geography and geology of the area.
“It’s not implausible at all,” said Beyer, who used to live in a house on Queen Street in Alexandria, Va., built on land that had been surveyed by George Washington.
“We had his survey with his signature framed in the front hall,” Beyer said. “He was all around.”
Beyer said he might ask the Congressional Research Service to look into it. He hopes the agency will not dismiss it as a “frivolous” request.
I wonder: Would a curling bit of parchment inked in Washington’s hand with “Gravelly Pointe” be enough to persuade politicians not to mess with the name?
In my Monday column about Gordon Thomas, who last year completed his quest to visit the gravesite of every U.S. president, I moved Ronald Reagan’s body. I wrote that his gravesite overlooked the Pacific Ocean. As several readers pointed out, it actually overlooks the Simi Valley — a picturesque place, no doubt, but more than 15 miles from the beach.
For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/people/john-kelly.