Posted: 8:58 pm Sunday, August 30th, 2015
By Jamie Dupree
On the eve of a three day visit by President Obama, the Obama Administration announced on Sunday that the federal government will use powers from a 1947 law to change the name of Alaska’s tallest mountain from Mount McKinley – named after the nation’s 25th President – to the local name of Denali.
“This name change recognizes the sacred status of Denali to many Alaska Natives,” said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell, who signed “Order No. 3337” about the name change last Friday.
The issue of changing the name of Mt. McKinley to Denali is not new; the feds noted that the Governor of Alaska asked for that back in early 1975, but nothing was ever done by what’s known as the United States Board on Geographic Names.
This name change order argues that the Secretary of Interior can make such a geographic name change when the Board on Geographic Names “does not act within a reasonable time.”
“The mountain was originally named after President William McKinley of Ohio, but President McKinley never visited, nor did he have any significant historical connection to, the mountain or to Alaska,” Secretary Jewell said.
If you are wondering how the Secretary has that power – the Congress gave the Interior Secretary the option to weigh in on geographic name changes in a 1947 law.
But lawmakers from McKinley’s home state of Ohio argue another act of Congress is all that can allow for a change.
The move by President Obama gathered no opposition from either Senator from Alaska – both of them are Republicans.
“Today, we’re honored to be able to officially recognize the mountain as Denali,” said Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), in a video of her which was shot with the mountain in the background, and released by her office.
Also giving the name change a thumbs up was Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-AK).
— SenDanSullivan (@SenDanSullivan) August 31, 2015
That was echoed by Rep. Don Young (R-AK), as the state’s entire Congressional delegation – all Republicans – backed the President’s move.
— Rep. Don Young (@repdonyoung) August 31, 2015
From the state of Ohio – McKinley’s home – there were some who objected.
“President McKinley was a proud Ohioan,” said Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who noted the mountain was named for McKinley after the GOP President was assassinated in 1901.
This decision by the Administration is yet another example of the President going around Congress (4/5)
— Rob Portman (@senrobportman) August 31, 2015
Some readers immediately asked a logical question – if President Obama could make this change, couldn’t other Presidents change the map as well?
For those interested – the U.S. Board on Geographic names was created in 1890.
About the Author
Jamie Dupree is the Radio News Director of the Washington Bureau of the Cox Media Group and writes the Washington Insider blog. A native of Washington, D.C., Jamie has covered Congress and politics in the nation’s capital since the Reagan Administration, and has been reporting for Cox since 1989.