Thursday, May 20, 2010

Reagan High

Those who wish to see more things in California named for the Gipper have suffered a second setback this year. Alpine, a city in San Diego County, is anticipating a new high school, to be opened in 2013. The planning of the school has covered many aspects of its design and operation, but the most controversial decision has been over its name.

Recently, the Grossmont Union High School District board waived a policy which determined that all schools be named after geographic regions. This allowed, or paved the way for, one trustee to propose naming the new school after Ronald Reagan (reportedly the trustee in question had opposed the new school from the start). A backlash against this unilateral decision prompted the board to create a committee to decide on the name, which only escalated the controversy when the committe members were discovered. Heading the list was local resident Ron Nehring, also chairman of the state Republican party, and former GOP congressman Duncan Hunter, Sr. - a political stitch-up seemed inevitable. However, the committee responded to pressure and agreed to survey the locals for potential names.

The controversy is mixed up in arcane local politics, too baffling for me to unpick. But the angry reaction to the proposal has been interesting. From some quarters, there is a traditional reaction to Reagan's politcal symbolism. The local Viejas and Sycuan tribes objected to their lack of inclusion in the decision process, but also the choice of Reagan, an "an inveterate Indian fighter" who "showed outright contempt for Native Americans".

The region, though, is conservative and strongly Republican, and the general reaction is by no means against President Reagan, but against outisders, whether the state or national party or the Ronlad Reagan Legacy Project, interfering in local business. Local pundit Chris Reed claims Reagan as "easily the best president of my lifetime", but has taken Ron Nehring to task over his association with Grover Norquist and the RRLP, and their efforts to turn a local issue into one of national symbolism. Moreover, on Nehring's response, Reed objected:
Sorry, Ron, that doesn't wash. I am a huge fan of Ronald Reagan and I think your party has betrayed him over and over and over. The last Republican president was a lot closer to LBJ than Reagan.
As with the $50 bill issue, there appears to be a broad cynicism over the Republican Party's efforts to appropriate the image of Ronald Reagan, from his supporters and critics alike.

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