Ohio Republicans in an uproar over Mount McKinley renaming

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State Rep. Michele Lepore-Hagan of Youngstown, D-58th, is criticizing Gov. John Kasich’s appointment of Dr. Charles R. Bush, who splits his time between residences in the Columbus area and Florida, to a seat on the Youngstown State University Board of Trustees.

Lepore-Hagan said the appointment by the Republican Kasich “is yet another example of the governor inserting outsider influence into Mahoning Valley matters. I am deeply concerned that the governor will demonstrate his disregard for community engagement in local education again in the near future by selecting an outsider CEO to manage the takeover of the Youngstown City Schools.”

Lepore-Hagan said that trustees “should be actively involved and deeply invested in the local community, and that board seats should not be reserved for purely political appointments.”

A native of Youngstown’s South Side, Bush graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School in 1966 and earned a bachelor’s degree in biology from YSU in 1971.

Lepore-Hagan had to resign Dec. 31 from YSU as director of its Performing Arts Series and said she felt “very slighted” when the university changed a decision to hire her back as a part-time director.

The Ohio Republican congressional delegation is calling for President Barack Obama to reverse his administration’s recent decision to rename North America’s tallest mountain Denali from Mount McKinley.

The mountain was named in honor of former President William McKinley, who was born in Niles.

While some Republicans come across as legitimately upset and angry, others seem as though they signed the letter to just take another partisan shot at the Democratic president.

Meanwhile, the four Democrats in the U.S. House from Ohio and U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, a Cleveland Democrat, are either accepting of the decision or aren’t saying anything.

The 12 Ohio Republicans in the U.S. House and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Cincinnati-area Republican, signed a letter to Obama sharply criticizing the president’s administration for the name change.

“This unilateral action is troubling to many Americans as this honor speaks volumes of respecting our nation’s heroes and their patriotic work to better our nation,” the letter reads. “It is also upsetting that William McKinley’s legacy has been tarnished by a political stunt to promote a partisan agenda.”

Those are pretty strong words and quite the stretch.

How does changing the name of a mountain in Alaska that McKinley never saw tarnish his name?

Also, until this week, I can’t imagine many people knew the mountain was named for McKinley. It almost goes without saying: How many people know who William McKinley was even after the name change became national news?

The story of how the mountain became known as Mount McKinley leaves me wondering how it’s been possible to keep that name for this long.

A prospector named the mountain for McKinley in 1896, shortly after the Niles native won the Republican nomination for president. He was elected president later that year, re-elected in 1900, and assassinated in 1901.

The federal government made it official in 1917 when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed a bill, approved by Congress, to officially call the mountain Mount McKinley as well as name the park it’s in after him.

“In 1917, Congress acted to recognize his selfless dedication to the U.S. through naming the Mount McKinley National Park in honor of his legacy,” the Ohio Republicans letter reads. “This memorial is not only important for Ohioans, but also pays respect to a fallen president and his leadership for our country.”

But all this time, Alaska natives have called the mountain Denali, meaning “the high one” in the language of the Koyukon Athabascan Native Americans of Alaska. In 1980, the government changed the name of the national park from Mount McKinley to Denali.

Patrick Finan, director of the McKinley Memorial Library and National McKinley Birthplace Memorial in Niles, said the name change was “inevitable.”

When I asked for comment on the name change from U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson of Marietta, R-6th, he said in a prepared statement: “I sincerely hope the administration and the National Park Service find a way to appropriately honor President McKinley, who was tragically assassinated six months into his second term. This great native Ohioan and American hero deserves nothing less.”

It’s a thoughtful response compared with the letter Johnson signed that states that Obama’s “administration has shown a troubling lack of respect for the rule of law and the separation of powers between the branches of our federal government. If the American people cannot trust the executive to faithfully execute the law, how can they place trust in the written law?”

On the other side, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan of Howland, D-13th, whose district includes Niles, sponsored a bill to keep the name of the mountain named for McKinley in 2009, 2011 and 2013.

Two years ago, Ryan said, “We must retain this national landmark’s name in order to honor the legacy of this great American president and patriot.”

When asked to comment on the name change, Ryan declined.

Perhaps the most reasonable response came from Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, when asked Wednesday at the Columbus Metropolitan Club about it.

“I wouldn’t want people from Alaska telling me what things in Ohio should be. So I guess we shouldn’t tell people from Alaska what they should do in their own state.”

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