Tuesday, August 9, 2005

Bet you didn’t know that Texas’ 23rd Congressional District measures 52,620.74 square miles — or 20 percent of the Lone Star State’s total square miles.

Or that this sprawling district, the largest in Texas, comprises 25 counties and is bigger than 24 U.S. states, including Virginia.

Within that vast and varied acreage, I bet you can’t figure out why U.S. Rep. Henry Bonilla is unable to find enough space to rename every road “Ronald Reagan Boulevard” if he so chooses to “memorialize” his presidential hero.

Instead, Mr. Bonilla, a Republican who represents the 23rd District, has chosen to ride roughshod over D.C. leaders and residents to rename their main local thoroughfare — 16th Street NW — the Ronald Reagan Boulevard.

Excuse me, but does anybody have the faintest recollection of Mr. Reagan ever traveling above 16th and K streets in the entire eight years he lived at the dead end of the thoroughfare at the White House (which, by the way, is actually at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW)? I don’t.

But Mr. Bonilla last month tiptoed to introduce legislation that would rename the historic street after Mr. Reagan.

No doubt, Pierre L’Enfant and Benjamin Banneker, who laid out the nation’s capital as an engineering marvel, would object.

Does Mr. Bonilla have any idea how we, as native Washingtonians, learned to navigate through our town after our parents taught us which direction the numbered, lettered and named streets run?

Does he have any idea what it means when people say they live in the vicinity of 16th Street and “the second alphabet?” Or you can find their house off “16th and the flower streets?”

Yee-haw! The avenues are named after states — like Texas.

There is no boulevard within the District that is not a state, which is why a single congressional overseer from the hinterlands can exercise his political whims against the wishes of nearly 600,000 residents.

From tacking on appropriation riders to approving school vouchers, repealing the handgun ban and keeping the District’s elected officials from spending city dollars on local measures to fight the HIV/AIDS epidemic, 535 representatives in the nation’s legislature have a vote on what happens to D.C. taxpayers and residents — but not the one representative they elected.

Wonder what they would say if the boot was on the other foot?

To add insult to injury, D.C. Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton is often not extended the common courtesy or decency of being consulted before these meddlesome measures are introduced by interlopers.

For sure, you know die-hard D.C. Democrats are turning over in their graves, not to mention the hackles Mr. Bonilla raised from wannabe social climbers who finally “made it” west and north of 16th Street and the Carter Barron Amphitheater.

Forget that some longtime locals have yet to get over the renaming of the former National Airport for the 40th president and still can’t bring themselves to call it by its current name.

Never mind that a humongous edifice was erected for the Republican president (the quintessential advocate for local control) that takes up a full two blocks smack in the center of downtown.

One would think that, coming from Texas, Mr. Bonilla would have noticed such a huge stone structure as the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center that sits prominently on Pennsylvania Avenue NW.

Bad enough that those monuments were named for the Gipper without consent by the full local congressional delegation and over the objections of numerous residents, not just Democrats.

We don’t need to “do this one for the Gipper,” too.

Clearly, Mr. Bonilla has no sense of local history or the significance of 16th Street, which crosses U Street, which was once Washington’s “Black Broadway.”

Nor was he aware that renaming a D.C. street requires new street signs and maps that Mayor Anthony A. Williams estimates could cost as much as $1 million.

Neither Mr. Bonilla nor his staff spokesman could be reached yesterday.

Oddly, on his Web site, the conservative congressman writes that “the most pressing issues affecting the 23rd District and the nation are burdensome federal regulations and government waste and spending.”

Further, it states that he “has emerged as a leader in the fight to protect private-property rights.”

Perhaps, Mr. Bonilla believes, like many congressional overseers, that the District is his private property, and D.C. taxpayers have no rights.

We’ll have to wait and see about his expensive proprietorship.

Yesterday, Mrs. Norton said Mr. Bonilla returned a phone call last week after unflattering reports about the street-renaming bill he introduced on July 28 — the last day before the congressional recess.

Apparently, he may be willing to back off the renaming measure, she said. Apparently, he didn’t realize what a ruckus he had created by his local encroachment.

“He said he wouldn’t press it,” Mrs. Norton said.

Good thing, because Virginia Republican Thomas M. Davis III, who heads the committee to which the Bonilla bill was referred, already had pronounced it “ridiculous,” and so it was dead on arrival.

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