When President Obama announced this week that Alaska’s Mount McKinley was being renamed Mount Denali, the White House said it was part of an effort to improve relations with Native Americans. But the decision drew immediate criticism from Republicans, particularly those from Ohio, who felt it was a snub to U.S. president and proud Ohioan William McKinley.
Rep. Bob Gibbs, (R-Ohio), said called it a political stunt that was “. . . insulting to all Ohioans .” House Speaker John Boehner said he was “. . . deeply disappointed in this decision.” Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) fired off several tweets Sunday evening indicating that he was “disappointed” with the move to do away with McKinley’s name.
CREDO mobile, a San Francisco-based cellphone company known for its support of progressive causes, was outraged by the criticism. Company officials wanted to remind the public that the Republicans themselves once removed a president’s name from public landmark. In 1998, Congress voted to rename Washington National Airport as Ronald Reagan National Airport, which the company contends is a snub to the nation’s first president George Washington.
And so on Wednesday, CREDO mobile’s political arm, CREDO Action, launched a petition drive to change the airport’s name back to its original moniker. Its goal is to get 75,000 folks to sign on; as of Friday afternoon, more than 45,000 had joined the drive.
President Obama just took a small but important step for recognizing the history, culture, and human rights of America’s Native Americans when he decided to rename America’s tallest mountain, Mount McKinley in Alaska, to its original name of Denali, reads CREDO’s petition.
But right-wing extremists in the Republican party, including House Speaker Rep. John Boehner, don’t see it that way. Boehner announced he is “deeply disappointed” in President Obama’s decision.1 But in 1998, John Boehner and his fellow Republicans in Congress weren’t so hesitant to remove a president’s name from a public landmark when they decided to rename Washington National Airport after Ronald Reagan.
That’s why it’s time to see if Speaker Boehner is willing to stay consistent and rename Ronald Reagan airport back to its original name honoring America’s first president, George Washington.
“We thought launching this campaign would be a really helpful reminder of what Republicans themselves had engaged in — a brazen political act,” said Murshed Zaheed, CREDO’s deputy political director. The effort was first reported by the Prince of Petworth blog.
Continues the petition:
That’s why it’s helpful to send them a reminder that, in a brazen political act at that time, Republicans in Congress themselves pushed through legislation renaming an airport already named after America’s first president, George Washington. And unlike President Obama’s decision, which honors the local people and culture surrounding that landmark, the renaming of Washington National airport was met with resistance from local Virginia residents and leaders. It was also strongly opposed by airport workers themselves, given President Reagan’s role in breaking the air traffic controllers’ union and mass firing 11,000 workers.3, 4 Renaming the airport also resulted in significant costs that were left to local government in Virginia to cover.5
Given Speaker Boehner’s current outrage and disappointment at President Obama’s decision to rename Mount McKinley, it’s time to give him the opportunity to make up for his own past mistakes. Sign the petition and tell John Boehner he needs to be consistent when it comes to naming America’s landmarks.
While it’s pretty unlikely that Congress will address this matter given everything that’s on its plate, Zaheed said CREDO will nevertheless push forward with the campaign.
“We’ll keep [the petition] open and deliver it in the next couple of weeks,” he said, noting that Congress is back in session on Tuesday.
It’s been 17 years since Congress voted to change Washington National to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, but the decision still rankles some, particularly Democrats. More than 40,000 people responded to a survey conducted by The Post’s sister publication the Express in December about what they call the airport.
“I’m still mad about the name, because of how it got passed. It got forced upon all the people here by a small group of powerful men in Congress,” says survey respondent Jason West, 57, a business analyst who lives in D.C.
At the time the name change was being debated, many Democrats and union activists argued it was particularly inappropriate to name an airport after Reagan given his role in breaking the air traffic controllers union. A 1998 Post article capture some of the local sentiment about the proposed name change.
Although the battle over the airport name became partisan, the fiercest opposition came from the Washington area. Alexandria and Arlington leaders urged Congress to leave the name alone, as did the Greater Washington Board of Trade and former Virginia governor A. Linwood Holton Jr., who is a Republican, wrote The Post in a Feb. 5, 1998 front-page article on the Senate’s 76-22 vote to change the name. (The House approved the measure 240-186).
So far, Zaheed said, there seems to be nationwide support for the name change. (People submit their zip codes along with their names when the sign the petition).