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Not Everyone Is Willing to Move to Reagan Country

Most proposals to put his name and image on more national symbols will meet serious opposition.

June 11, 2004|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — As the nation eulogizes former President Reagan, proposals are multiplying to honor his name by putting it on important American institutions and symbols, including the Pentagon and the $10 bill.

But for all the kind words that have been said about the 40th president, his eight years in office were sufficiently tumultuous -- and are sufficiently fresh in his critics' memories -- that most proposals will encounter serious opposition.

"He was a very impressive guy," said Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), "but he was controversial."

Reagan's name already can be found on an airport, a freeway, an aircraft carrier, hospitals, schools, office buildings, post offices and even a New Hampshire mountain. But the process of naming things after Reagan has revived disputes that flared around him when he was president.

Congress in 1998 named National Airport in Washington after the former president -- who had fired air traffic controllers during a 1981 union strike -- but only after a partisan row. The Washington transit authority agreed to install new signs with Reagan's name at the airport subway stop only after Congress ordered it.

Many consider it ironic that one of the biggest government buildings in Washington, the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center on Pennsylvania Avenue, near the White House, is named after a critic of big government.

Now, Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) is proposing naming the biggest federal building of all -- the Pentagon -- after Reagan. In a sign of how hard it is to build consensus, Frist's proposal was less than a day old before members of his own party were questioning it.

Sen. John W. Warner (R-Va.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said a proposal made years ago to name the Pentagon after President Eisenhower was rejected because it was felt that the building stands as "a symbol of the bipartisanship" that is needed in defending the country.

William Niskanen, who served on Reagan's Council of Economic Advisors and is chairman of the Cato Institute, a libertarian Washington think tank, said: "Reagan's own preference was that there be no physical memorial to any politician until 25 years after his death."

He said he would prefer that Reagan be honored by federal policies more consistent with his political philosophy, including stopping the energy, highway and corporate tax overhaul bills now before Congress on grounds that they are too costly.

A proposal to put Reagan on the dime in place of President Franklin D. Roosevelt already has drawn objections from Democrats, for whom Roosevelt was as much of a hero as Reagan was for Republicans.

The effort to put Reagan on currency has been promoted by the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, headed by Grover Norquist, a leading tax-cut advocate and president of Americans for Tax Reform. In addition to a proposal by Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to put Reagan on the $10 bill, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Huntington Beach) has proposed such a tribute on the $20 bill, and Rep. Jeff Miller (R-Fla.) has proposed putting Reagan on the 50-cent piece.

"Ronald Reagan was beyond doubt a much better president than Andrew Jackson," Rohrabacher said.

Lawmakers from Jackson's home of Tennessee are not keen on stripping away that honor, just as some elected officials from New York object to the idea of a $10 bill without the image of Alexander Hamilton, a New Yorker and the first secretary of the Treasury.

"The way some people are talking, you'd think Alexander Hamilton and Andrew Jackson were just some 'John Does' they pulled off the street to put on our currency," said Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney (D-N.Y.). "They must not have paid attention to their history lessons. Those historical figures are on our money for a reason."

But Rep. Mark E. Souder (R-Ind.) said: "Ronald Reagan, as the defining president of this era, needs to be on a coin or currency. Critics of change didn't seem to object when Dwight D. Eisenhower was replaced by Susan B. Anthony [on the dollar coin] and when Ben Franklin was replaced by John F. Kennedy" on the 50-cent piece.

Meanwhile, Rep. Christopher Cox (R-Newport Beach) and other California Republicans in the House would like to make Reagan one of the state's two honorees in Statuary Hall -- a national hall of fame of sorts in the Capitol. The lawmakers are pushing to replace the statue of Thomas Starr King, a minister now so honored for his role in keeping California within the Union during the Civil War, with one of the former governor.

Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) has another way to honor the former president: "The best way to remember President Reagan is to fully fund Alzheimer's research and to find a cure to that dreaded disease sometime soon."

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