Fred LaSor: Renaming Las Vegas’ airport

Democrats in the current legislative session want to change the name of the Las Vegas airport to honor Harry Reid. It’s a dumb idea that reflects poorly on the lawmakers, and there’s a better choice if they must change the name.

Las Vegas airport is currently named after Pat McCarran, who’s remembered as a former Chief Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court and then as a U.S. Senator who was a driving force in the expansion of commercial aviation in America. Sponsor of the Civil Aeronautics Act of 1938 and the Federal Airports Act of 1945, McCarran’s role in aviation is unassailable. McCarran was also a mentor to many young Democrats in Nevada, including Harry Reid. Now Nevada’s Democrats want to let him slip into quiet obscurity.

Naming Nevada’s major airport after recently-retired Sen. Harry Reid is premature and misguided. Reid earned his “Dirty Harry” nickname for political nastiness as Senate leader and for his move to change cloture rules to shut out minority opinion. Mild-mannered Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander criticized Reid for “destroying the Senate’s capacity to forge consensus, protect minority views, and counter presidential excess,” according to Genoa lawyer Jim Hartman. The memories we all carry of Reid’s extreme partisanship, as even members of his own party can attest, need to be dimmed by time before his name appears on any state building.

We also need to forget he managed to parlay an annual salary of $150,000 into a multi-million dollar net worth, and forget his vicious slander of presidential candidate Mitt Romney from the floor of the Senate — slander he justified after the election by reminding CNN’s Dana Bash Romney had, after all, lost the election.

As Senate leader, Reid prevented budget bills from coming before the Senate for many years, thus abdicating a major responsibility of the U.S. Congress and leaving the government to function under a continuing resolution. That is unquestionably poor financial management, proved by near doubling of the public debt during Reid’s leadership of the Senate, while crony capitalism blossomed.

Democrats’ effort to name Nevada’s largest airport after him is understandable: writing a politician’s name on a public landmark is much easier for elected officials than tackling serious legislative business. And make no mistake: the Legislature’s naming privilege isn’t serious.

But to replace McCarran’s name with Harry Reid’s is wrong. McCarran was well regarded on both sides of the aisle and was a constant champion of aviation when airplanes were gaining importance in the conduct of war (he was influential in making the Air Force a separate service) and in the hauling of passengers and freight. Reid has no notable link with aviation.

A good practice when naming landmarks after politicians would be for anyone being so honored to have passed on. Otherwise the temptation would be for elected officials to lobby for their own name on a post office or bridge. If we don’t have a law limiting landmark names to deceased officials, we need one.

A better candidate if McCarran’s name is to be stripped from the Las Vegas airport would be the first woman to represent Nevada in the House of Representatives, “fighting grandmother” Barbara Vucanovich. She represented Nevada’s Second Congressional district for 14 years and is well regarded by elected officials from both parties. As a congresswoman, she constantly used small airplanes to cover her large rural district and was instrumental in preventing closure of many flight service stations at rural Nevada airports. Her more equitable demeanor and her link to aviation make her a better choice for remembering with the name of the Las Vegas airport.

Fred LaSor retired to the Carson Valley in 2005.


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