A matter of monumental importance is dividing Nevada’s congressional delegation, as two members of the House of Representatives fire off competing bills in an effort to top each other.
No, it’s not the Affordable Care Act. This fight is about something loftier.
Rep. Joe Heck, R-Nev., sponsored a bill Thursday, on what would have been Ronald Reagan’s 103rd birthday, to name a peak at the eastern edge of the Las Vegas Valley after the former president.
The legislation came at the request of conservative activist Chuck Muth, who worked for months to put Reagan’s name on Frenchman’s tallest point, only to see Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, derail the effort last year with a bill to name the same peak after Nevada political pioneer Maude Frazier.
Muth said he asked for help from Heck on the current proposal after he bumped into Titus at a UNLV basketball game a few weeks ago and asked her if they couldn’t work out a compromise. “Her tart response was, ‘Well, pick another mountain,’” he said.
Caitlin Teare, spokeswoman for Titus, called that “a mischaracterization of a casual conversation that occurred in passing during a basketball game.”
The two bills don’t appear to conflict with each other. Both could pass into law, though neither measure would change the mountain’s existing name. Frenchman Mountain will remain Frenchman Mountain regardless of what happens with Titus’ House Resolution 3440 or Heck’s H.R. 4017.
Muth said the peak in the Heck bill is about 100 feet shorter than the one they hoped to name after the 40th president, but it still provides “just a fabulous view” of Lake Mead to the east and the Las Vegas Valley to the west.
At least Muth thinks it does. He hasn’t actually been to the top of either peak, but said he “may just give it a shot” because the shorter peak involves less hiking to get to.
“It’s shorter. I don’t know if it’s any easier for us old guys,” he said. “I still think I want to be helicoptered up to the top.”
Back when Muth was pushing for the taller peak to become Mount Reagan, the idea drew plenty of opposition from people who never cared for the Republican icon. But a handful of others criticized it for the opposite reason: they argued that Reagan deserves better than some nondescript bump on a trashed-up mountain at the edge of Las Vegas.
Muth doesn’t see it that way. He thinks Mount Reagan will be a draw, and he fully expects at least some of the city’s roughly 40 million annual visitors to make the trek to the top of it.
“It’s not an 11,000-foot peak, but it’s certainly an appropriate tribute to President Reagan,” he said. “It’s never been about the peak itself.”
Muth has been trying for years to get something in Nevada named after Reagan, a personal and political hero of his. His effort is an offshoot of the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, which national conservative leader Grover Norquist launched in 1997 in hopes of plastering the 40th president’s name on as many landmarks as possible.
Muth’s original Mount Reagan proposal targeting the highest point on Frenchman Mountain won the approval of the Nevada Board on Geographic Names in September. It was due for review by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is usually the final arbiter of such things, when Titus quietly introduced her Maude Frazier Mountain bill on Oct. 30.
It turns out Congress trumps any action by the national naming board.
When he found out about the Titus bill in December, Muth called it “a cheap, petty, partisan political stunt.”
At the time, though, Teare said Titus simply wanted “to name a Nevada landmark after a notable Nevadan.”
Maude was the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Nevada. She was also a teacher, a principal and eventually superintendent of schools in Las Vegas. After she retired, the Democrat was elected to the state Assembly and eventually persuaded her fellow lawmakers to fund the junior college campus in Southern Nevada that would one day gave root to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Today, you can find Frazier’s name on the short stretch of Harmon Avenue leading into the university from the east and at the center of UNLV’s Pioneer Wall, which was built on the site of that first building she got funded, Maude Frazier Hall.
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him on Twitter @RefriedBrean.