Tributes to Reagan are in the running For some, the more his name and legacy live on, the better

December 02, 1997|By Susan Baer | Susan Baer,SUN NATIONAL STAFF

WASHINGTON -- The way some Republicans see it, John F. Kennedy has, among other things, a glorious performing arts center, a prestigious school of government at Harvard and an international airport to honor his memory.

What's two-termer Ronald Reagan got? The emergency room he was taken to after he was shot in March 1981 and the biggest government facility built in this half-century. And the latter is thought to be a questionable tribute for a man who deplored big government and the "puzzle palaces on the Potomac."

So Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, has decided to take the Gipper's legacy into his own hands and try to get the 40th president's name emblazoned on as many buildings, highways, airports, schools, mountains and parks, libraries and museums around the country as possible.

"We noticed that everything that wasn't nailed down was named for John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King or Franklin D. Roosevelt," Norquist says. "Conservatives have not done as well in honoring their heroes."

The first major effort of Norquist's new Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, an arm of his anti-tax organization, is to change the name of Washington National Airport -- which is in Arlington, Va. -- to Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.

Norquist's aim is to have the name change approved by Feb. 6, the 87th birthday of the man revered by Republicans and conservatives. Nancy Reagan, who has often acted as a spokeswoman for her husband since he became ill with Alzheimer's disease, has endorsed the project.

"The guy ended the Cold War; he turned the economy around," Norquist says. "He deserves a monument like the Jefferson or the FDR -- or the Colossus at Rhodes! National Airport is a good place to start."

Norquist's efforts have resulted in two Republican bills proposing the name change -- in the House, a measure by Rep. Bob Barr of Georgia that has the support of Speaker Newt Gingrich; and in the Senate, a bill by Sen. Paul Coverdell of Georgia with the backing of Majority Leader Trent Lott.

Barr said he believes that the bills, both introduced in October, will be voted on early next year.

Although the measure, recently endorsed by 32 Republican governors, could be an easy sell in the Republican-controlled Congress, it would have to be signed by President Clinton, who has yet to weigh in on the subject.

"We haven't seen any legislation, nor have we given any consideration to it yet," said Joe Lockhart, a White House spokesman.

Airport officials reluctant

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority, which operates Washington National and Washington Dulles International airports even though they are owned by the federal government, has not taken an official position.

But officials there say they have serious reservations about changing the name.

"We think 'Washington National' has served the airport well for its 56-year history," says Tara Hamilton, a spokeswoman. "We are the gateway to the nation's capital. The airport's name is very appropriate given its location. It's a name that's had significant meaning behind it."

What's more, Hamilton says, airport officials worry about confusing the traveling public.

The officials have reason to be concerned. In the mid-1980s, they added "Washington" to the name of Dulles International Airport (named for John Foster Dulles, secretary of state to President Dwight D. Eisenhower) after too many folks in cowboy boots and 10-gallon hats, intending to go to Dallas, ended up in Northern Virginia.

"A name does mean a lot," Hamilton says.

The authority's chairman has suggested, as an alternative, that only the new terminal at National -- and not the entire airport -- be named for Reagan.

Critics, primarily Democrats, say that Reagan had little fondness for the capital city and forged no attachment with it during his eight years in the White House. What's more, one of his first acts in office was to fire the striking air traffic controllers.

Washington Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. said that if the airport is to be renamed, "other names should be given consideration." He ** suggested the names of those who paved the way for the gleaming new terminal, such as former Transportation Secretary Elizabeth Hanford Dole.

But even serious Reagan detractors are treading lightly on this subject, a sensitive issue to debate while the former president is alive but in poor health.

"I have a different view of his legacy," says Geraldine A. Ferraro, ,, the 1984 Democratic vice presidential candidate who lost out to the Reagan-Bush re-election team. "For me, his legacy is huge deficits and mounting debt that we'll be paying off into the next millennium."

Even so, she does not oppose renaming National Airport for Reagan. "The man was president of the United States; he served two terms," says the former congresswoman.

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