“I’m sitting on main street in Dayton, Ohio,” said Rep. Mike Turner. “I can tell you, the residents of this city are furious.”
The source of their fury — and of Turner’s — is the news that President Obama will restore the native name of America’s highest mountain. Since 1917, the peak known to Athabascans as “Denali,” or “the Great One,” has been named for the assassinated President William McKinley, whose visage also graces the $500 bill. Since 1975, Alaskan politicians have attempted to restore the Denali name, the one Alaskans typically use anyway. The official name change has already been celebrated by the state’s Republican senior senator, Lisa Murkowski, a reliable foe of the environmental policies the president is traveling to Alaska to promote.
For a generation, former Ohio congressman Ralph Regula fought attempts to rename the mountain. Speaker of the House John Boehner, the most powerful Ohioan in politics, said he was “deeply disappointed” by the decision, but did not hint at any specific response. Turner, who has represented a swath of southwest Ohio since 2003, is picking up the standard and running straight at the White House.
“The Ohio delegation certainly didn’t hear about this from the president,” he said. “I’m certain he didn’t notify President McKinley’s descendants, who find this outrageous. Clearly this is a president who is not concerned with the deliberative process.”
Turner would correct that by any means necessary. “William McKinley was assassinated in September 1901,” he said. “We have an anniversary coming up when Congress returns from the recess. At that time I plan to go to the House floor to commemorate our assassinated president, and to begin part of the congressional effort for legislative action.”
That could take many forms. Turner was ready to craft a ‘sense of Congress’ resolution, to write a standalone bill, to attach the un-re-naming of Denali to must-pass legislation. Asked if he would ask the House to pursue legal action over the president’s move, he did not say no.
“There are a number of avenues, all of which can be pursued,” he said. “The question is whether the president even has the authority to do this.”
Turner said he was unaware of a July episode of The Daily Show which skeptically covered the defenders of the Mount McKinley name by interviewing native Alaskans. Asked if he thought those Alaskans would be offended by a fight over the name, Turner said that the issue really should have been settled by now.
“This is an issue that was resolved in 1917,” he said. “Mount McKinley was named for an assassinated Republican president by a bipartisan action of Congress. It was signed by Woodrow Wilson, a Democrat. It was accomplished by a group of President McKinley’s contemporaries, to dedicate something to his service. President Obama’s actions toss aside the sacrifice of President McKinley. Imagine the outrage if in 100 years, a Republican would undo John F. Kennedy’s name from landmarks?”