Yesterday the Arkansas legislature’s Senate Committee on State Agencies and Governmental Affairs gave a “do pass” recommendation for House Bill 2211. The stated purpose of the bill is in part, “… to regulate the naming of public buildings, structures, or facilities after certain individuals to prevent unfair advantages for incumbent candidates in future political contests.”The bill goes on to state, “A building, structure, or facility paid for in whole or in part with public funds shall not be named for an individual living at the time of completion of the building, structure, or facility who, in the ten (10) years preceding the construction of the public building, structure, or facility:
“(1) Was elected by qualified electors to a federal, state, county, or municipal office or held a federal, state, county, or municipal office; and
“(2) Received a salary for his or her service in the federal, state, county, or municipal office.”
The bill specifically excludes officeholders who are at least 75 years old or were a prisoner of war.
Regrettably, bills like this are necessary to prevent some of what has already happened all across the state — say for instance when a popular, but polarizing still-living former governor is honored by having a series of new public structures named after him.
Unabated, this overly politicized gotcha name game leads us to a place similar to the one portrayed in the 1993 dystopian action flick, Demolition Man. In it Lenina Huxley (Sanda Bullock) tells a disoriented John Spartan (Sylvester Stallone), “Now all restaurants are Taco Bell.”
In the battle to push out all competing business interests, the fast food chain slaps its name on each new conquest — not unlike a hound dog marking his territory. While some state lawmakers would likely protest a similar characterization of past naming trends, the evidence is pretty irrefutable.
Before we rush to break ground on yet one more politically motivated tribute, we need to consider a couple of historical facts: The Lincoln Memorial didn’t appear until more than 50 years after Lincoln’s death. The Washington Monument came 89 years after Washington died. In short, if the honoree is so darned laudable, they’ll still be laudable in a couple of decades.
To be sure, this isn’t just a Democrat-Republican thing. Some may recall a 2007 bill proposed by former state Rep. Dan Greenberg (R-Little Rock). Dubbed “the Edifice Complex Prevention Bill,” the measure would have banned politicians from naming things after themselves.
As Greenberg told ABC News reporter John Stossel in 2007, “For me it just comes too close to using taxpayer money to build temples to living people.”
Greenberg’s motivation was based in his discovery that a park was named after him and some other legislators. One of the honorees complained that the sign with her name didn’t use her campaign colors.
“That was so distasteful, I just said to myself, ‘Enough!’” Greenberg told Stossel.
The bill was widely derided. It died in committee: 11 to 3.
Of course, we all know that people don’t go into politics because they’re short on ego. Just look all across the ancient world. How many cities bear the name “Alexandria?” Apparently though, great military victories, like great political victories, just don’t have enough panache without a monument.
If you’re still unconvinced, maybe your mind would be clearer after a walk in the woods. Say for instance at the local Gov. Mike Huckabee Delta Rivers Nature Center. Beware, however, that the Center’s staff takes a dim view of any attempt to mark your spot along the trails. You have to get elected to something first.