Program note: For more on the Ronald Reagan presidency and how it changed the game for the leaders who followed, watch CNN Films’ “The Reagan Show” on Monday, September 4, at 9 p.m. ET. This story was first published in 2016.
If you’ve ever wondered why there are so many landmarks named after Ronald Reagan, look no further than a bearded, bespectacled man from Washington known for hating tax increases and taking an annual pilgrimage to Burning Man.
Less than a decade after his presidency ended, Reagan aides made a concerted effort to convince local governments and private associations to name places after their boss across the nation. Led by lobbyist and anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, the Reagan Legacy Project was founded in the 1997 with the goal of naming something substantial after the nation’s fortieth president in every state and, eventually, make the Gipper’s mark in each of the nation’s 3,144 counties.
“The big goal is to generate 100,000 conversations where parents talk to their kids, neighbors talk to each other as they fly into Reagan airport, and the kid says, “Who is Reagan?” Norquist, who has become famous in recent years for the anti-tax hike pledge he encourages Republicans to sign, told CNN in an interview. “You do need to remind people. Americans, understandably, spend very little time looking backwards.”
Norquist’s first major coup was to convince Congress to change the name of Washington’s National Airport to “Reagan National Airport,” a victory that riled Democrats. Since then, he has worked to convince state legislatures to recognize Reagan’s February birthday, and he encourages them to name parks, post offices, roads and other places after his old boss.
From something as small as a terrace at the Los Angeles Country Club, to a New Hampshire mountain, nothing is too small or large for Norquist to make a push.
Why stop there? Would Reagan’s face fit on Mt. Rushmore? Norquist said he’s already looked into it.
“I’m told that it would,” Norquist said. “My preference is to replace Teddy Roosevelt because he was a statist and a progressive Republican as opposed to a Reagan Republican. Does he deserve the kind of status that a Jefferson and a Washington have? The answer is yes, he does.”