GOP mission: Name 3,000 things after Reagan

San Francisco ChronicleMay 14, 2014 

— Conservative activist Grover Norquist wants to name 3,000 things after Ronald Reagan. His next target is a small mountain in Democratic Sen. Harry Reid’s home state.

The would-be Mount Reagan, at 3,366 feet, is not nearly the highest peak in Nevada. But it does overlook Las Vegas and, as such, would remind all who visit and live there of the former two-term California governor who went on to become president and lodestar of the Republican Party.

The legislation is ready for a House vote as soon as Republican leaders get around to it. Supporters hope that’s on or before June 5, the 10-year anniversary of Reagan’s death.

But some California Democrats, tongue in cheek, said the bill lacks ambition.

“We should go big with this Reagan-naming phenomenon instead of piecemealing our way through local parks and mountains and large stretches of the ocean,” said Rep. Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael. He said lawmakers should just go straight to Planet Reagan to end the matter once and for all.

The Nevada peak is one of the few in the United States that doesn’t yet have a name. It is the second-highest part of a small range overlooking Las Vegas called Frenchman Mountain.

The whole enterprise is tangled up in a spat pitting Norquist against Reid, the Senate majority leader from Nevada, who opposes the idea, and Rep. Dina Titus, D-Nev., who hijacked the plan by introducing competing legislation to name the higher peak next door after Maude Frazier, a Democrat who briefly served as lieutenant governor, died in 1963 and was promptly forgotten, until now.

“There’s going to come a day when Democrats may wish to name something after someone from their side of the aisle,” said Chuck Muth, a Nevada conservative activist who came up with the idea and is working with Norquist. “Clearly, there’s going to be an effort to name a mountain after President Obama, the first black president of the United States. I think he’s probably going to be very deserving of such a high honor because of breaking that barrier.”

The peak naming is part of Norquist’s Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, whose aim is to name something after Reagan in each of the nation’s 3,141 counties or their equivalent.

California has at least 20 places or features named after Reagan, more than any other state. They include the Ronald Reagan Veterans Memorial Building in San Francisco, an American Legion post’s headquarters on Powell Street, as well as the Ronald Reagan Freeway north of Los Angeles and Ronald Reagan Sports Park in Temecula (Riverside County).

Reagan’s birthplace, Illinois, has 15 places with Reagan’s name on them, and Texas, where Republican Sen. Ted Cruz is casting himself as Reagan reincarnated, has two schools, three roads and an outpost of the Department of Education, which Reagan tried to abolish.

The project is part of Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform, a group he founded in 1986 to support Reagan’s tax code streamlining, which Republicans have been undoing ever since. The group’s most prominent achievement so far has been persuading Congress to change the name of Washington National Airport to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport, a law President Bill Clinton signed in 1998.

The airport is the chief portal for members of Congress and millions of others traveling to and from the nation’s capital, proving an enduring irritant to Democrats who tend to call the airport simply National. Now, they want to check Norquist’s goal of having a Ronald Reagan River, Elementary School or Community Center in every county in the country.

“There’s a determined effort to deify Ronald Reagan,” Huffman said. “It’s become an article of faith in the Republican Party, so let’s just go ahead and name the planet after him and then maybe they'll start caring about climate change.”

Norquist said fewer than 100 things have been named after Reagan so far, not counting children, way fewer than the more than 800 roads, schools and other landmarks named after former President John F. Kennedy.

“The idea that somehow we’ve named so much after Reagan that one’s eyes hurt is something you really have to be a complete left-wing twit to believe,” Norquist said. “I’m sorry, John F. Kennedy was an interesting guy, but because life struck him down, his accomplishments were more limited than Reagan’s. He didn’t win the Cold War. Reagan did. He didn’t turn the economy around, Reagan did.”

Not only that, Norquist said, but the Reagan project has been way more modest than the “Kennedy political machine” that named “stuff that was already named,” such as Florida’s Cape Canaveral space center.

Muth said it’s hard to find any mountains that haven’t been named, even in a thinly settled state like Nevada.

The Frenchman range east of Las Vegas is unusual for having two unnamed peaks. The original choice for Mount Reagan had the advantage of being a peak that people could actually see. It even has a hiking trail.

The renaming was approved by the state Board of Geographic Names and was headed for the national board’s purview, until, in October, “Titus threw a monkey wrench” into things, Muth said, by introducing a bill to name the peak Mount Maude Frazier.

Congress trumps the Board of Geographic Names, which could no longer act on the proposal once legislation was introduced.

Muth said he approached the congresswoman at a University of Nevada basketball game in Las Vegas, and she told him to go find another mountain.

Titus did not respond to a request for comment. Her bill has no co-sponsors and is headed for oblivion in the Republican-run House.

Norquist accused Reid of masterminding the scheme. “Harry Reid had a hissy fit and got somebody in the House to introduce a bill,” Norquist said. Reid’s office did not respond for comment.

So Muth settled on the smaller peak right next to the original choice and got Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., to sponsor legislation. Reid has no plans to take the bill up in the Senate, but Muth thinks House passage would be a good start.

“The second one is only about 100 feet shorter,” Muth said. “It’s not the highest peak, but it’s certainly close enough.”

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