- - Sunday, January 28, 2018


Settling a grudge requires stamina, because it can take so long to resolve. Ronald Reagan established his reputation for being amiable but tough when necessary early in his administration, when he fired the entire air-traffic controllers’ union in 1981 for trying to hold the nation’s safety and security hostage in a dispute over a contract. Some Democrats have never forgiven him.

The Gipper is gone, but the grudge is alive and well. The Democrats who tried to prevent renaming Washington National Airport as Reagan National Airport in 1989 are trying now to prevent renaming a tiny park adjoining the airport as the Nancy Reagan Memorial Park. The House Natural Resources Committee approved the change last week and its prospects look good.

Nevertheless, the controversy continues. Volvo-and-beansprout liberals in Congress were not concerned in 1981 about how the air-traffic controllers posed “a peril to national safety” with their strike, which was actually illegal, and Mr. Reagan told the union that he would fire everybody who didn’t return to work in 48 hours. They didn’t, and he did.

Some unforgiving Democrats, still nursing the grudge, now oppose naming Gravelly Point Park, popular as a place to watch planes take off and land with an unobstructed view of the runways, to honor the late first lady.

Rep. Don Beyer, whose congressional district includes the park and the airport, further objects on what he might call “states’ rights grounds.” The sponsor of the legislation to honor Mrs. Reagan is Rep. Jody Hice of Georgia, a Republican who has no geographic ties to Mr. Beyer’s district. Still, the measure to honor the former first lady does have the support of the seven Republicans in Virginia’s congressional delegation.

“I have great respect for Nancy Reagan,” says Mr. Beyer, but he accuses Republicans of forcing the name change without local support. “This would be the equivalent of my offering a bill in Mr. Hice’s district to rename the Oconee National Forest’s campground as the Hillary Clinton campground or the Michelle Obama campground.”

Rep. Barbara Comstock, Mr. Boyer’s Virginia colleague, says the change in name would be “a fitting tribute to someone who was a dedicated partner to her husband, and [who] dedicated so much to the service of our country.” Mrs. Reagan died in March 2016. Rep. Comstock noted that Lady Bird Johnson Park, named for a Democratic former first lady, lies only a mile or so up the Potomac River from Gravelly Point. “It is petty, partisan and disappointing that Rep. Beyer is spending his time battling this modest recognition.”

Democrats who worry about how much the government would spend on the change can rest easy; changing the name of Gravelly Point Park will require only changing a few signs on the parkway directing traffic to the park entrance. The park, with its prominent location as the site of the airport at a bend in the river, has always attracted controversy. Was the airport in Virginia, or the District of Columbia?

The District once claimed the river, and argued that the boundary of the Potomac ran to the high-water mark of the shoreline. But since the airport was built on a landfill, a new shoreline was created, and a question was raised whether the boundary lay at the new shoreline or the old one. That question was resolved by Congress in 1945 when it established that the boundary was the mean high-water mark, regardless of changes, which put the land on which the airport was later built in Virginia.

However, Congress established exclusive congressional control over the airport, which it relinquished in 1987 when President Reagan signed the legislation establishing the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority.

We who live in Washington often forget that Washington belongs to the people of the United States. The states created Washington, not the other way around, and but for that act of creation what we now call the District would still be a swamp. Mr. Beyer should find another partisan sticking point in the mud and gravel of the past to nurse his grudge. A little Southern gallantry would better serve, to give a lovely first lady her due.

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