A proposal to name the peak of Frenchman Mountain after former President Ronald Reagan has been scuttled, and all it took was an act of Congress.
Rep. Dina Titus, D-Las Vegas, has effectively derailed the official naming process with a simple, one-page bill in the House seeking to name the same geographic feature after Maude Frazier, a fellow Democrat and the first woman to serve as lieutenant governor of Nevada and the driving force behind the creation of what is now UNLV.
It turns out the will of Congress trumps any action by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names, which is usually the final arbiter of such things.
The man behind the Mount Reagan proposal, conservative activist Chuck Muth, is not amused.
“This was a cheap, petty, partisan political stunt,” he said Friday.
Titus spokesman Caitlin Teare insists there is no personal or political motive behind the bill. “It is simply an effort to name a Nevada landmark after a notable Nevadan,” she said. “What could be a better way to celebrate Nevada’s 150th birthday than honoring one of our own?”
Titus quietly introduced the bill back on Oct. 30, but Muth said he only found out about it this week, when he contacted the head of the Nevada Board on Geographic Names for a status update on his proposal.
In an email to Muth, state board Chairwoman Linda Newman said she was stunned by the development. “This is the first situation like this I have seen in my several decades on the NV Board,” Newman wrote.
The state board signed off on the Mount Reagan idea in September. The national board was expected to take it up before the end of the year, but now any action is on hold pending the outcome of House Resolution 3440.
Titus’ bill was referred to the House Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation shortly after it was introduced, but nothing has been done with it since.
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 president’s name on as many landmarks as possible.
Muth said he has a conference call scheduled Monday “with Grover” and maybe an attorney to discuss their options, assuming they have any.
“I’m out of my league here,” he said. “Bigger fish are going to have to jump in on this and tell me what direction we should go because I have no idea.”
Even if Titus’ bill goes nowhere in the House, Muth is afraid she may have hit on a way to keep the Mount Reagan proposal trapped in limbo forever. The next time around, he said, “Harry (Reid) can put a bill in to name it Snoopy Peak.”
Titus has gotten the better of Muth before. In 1996, then state Sen. Titus easily fought off an election challenge from Muth in a heated race that focused on the state’s tax structure.
But if this was a calculated move to thwart Muth and the Ronald Reagan Legacy Project, the Titus camp certainly isn’t calling it that.
Teare said the congresswoman merely saw an opportunity to name an unnamed mountain peak after an important local figure in Southern Nevada history.
Muth isn’t buying it.
“I’m not saying Maude Frazier is not deserving of an honor, but no one had suggested naming that peak after her until after the Mount Reagan proposal was approved by the state board,” he said.
Frazier was a teacher, a principal and eventually superintendent of schools in Las Vegas. After she retired, she was elected to the Nevada Assembly in 1950 and served there for 12 years.
She eventually persuaded her fellow lawmakers to fund a junior college campus in Southern Nevada, and she shoveled the first spadeful of dirt for the building, which opened in 1957, six years before she died.
Maude Frazier Hall, as it was known, gave root to the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, but the aging building was demolished in 2009. Today, you can find Frazier’s name on the short stretch of Harmon Avenue leading into the campus from the east and at the center of the Pioneer Wall, a tribute built on the site of that original building.
Neither Titus nor Muth are seeking to change the name of the entire mountain at the valley’s eastern edge. Frenchman will still be Frenchman, even if local residents continue to confuse it with Sunrise Mountain, three miles to the north and almost 700 feet lower.
But some wonder whether anyone deserves to have their name associated with the top of Frenchman Mountain.
At least one member of the state naming board raised the question when the Mount Reagan proposal was being discussed.
UNLV Vice Provost and geology professor Margaret “Peg” Rees, who is the board’s only member from Southern Nevada, pointed out that there is nothing terribly majestic or impressive about the treeless, 4,052-foot bump with a communication tower sticking out of it. The peak is bracketed on one side by what used to be the community’s garbage dump and on the other by a trash-strewn patch of desert heavily scarred by off-road vehicles, illegal dumping, illicit parties and target shooters.
When asked if that sounded like a place befitting the Frazier name, Teare fell silent for a moment. “I haven’t seen the area for myself,” the Titus spokeswoman finally said, “so I can’t comment on that.”
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350. Follow him on Twitter @RefriedBrean.