Renaming airport: It’s an economic decision, not a political one

The debate over renaming McCarran International Airport is beyond sidetracked. It’s off the rails.

The idea gained new life this summer when Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross, a member of the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority Board of Directors, formally proposed dropping McCarran and renaming the complex Las Vegas International Airport.

Mr. Ross did so because he believes having Las Vegas in the title might improve recognition of the airport’s location, place the city’s name in more media and generate more tourism in the valley. Gallatin Field in Bozeman, Mont., changed its name to Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport to cash in on the famous park. And Reno dropped the name of former Nevada Sen. Howard Cannon from its field – while Mr. Cannon was still alive – renaming the facility Reno-Tahoe International Airport in 1994 to better promote the city’s proximity to Lake Tahoe.

The Las Vegas name switch likely would cost millions of dollars, primarily to change signage. The move might well prove worth it in the long run, but the argument can be made that the Las Vegas brand is so well-known that a renamed airport won’t make a bit of difference.

The debate should be about economics. Instead, it has focused on the character of former Nevada Sen. Pat McCarran, for whom the airport is named. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., jumped into the conversation recently: “I don’t think his name should be on anything.”

Sen. McCarran, a Democrat, held office from 1933 until his death in 1954. He was a fervent anti-communist and a known anti-Semite who blocked an attempt by Congress to tax Nevada’s casinos out of business and championed aviation. His legacy is a mixed bag, but as Review-Journal columnist Steve Sebelius noted last month, Las Vegas simply wouldn’t be what it is today without him.

He’s been dead for almost 60 years, and we’re now deciding his name shouldn’t be on our airport? If the Clark County Commission decides to strike McCarran from the airport because of newfound disgust with a man few living Nevadans knew, they’ll find themselves with plenty more renaming requests. This week, Review-Journal columnist John L. Smith pointed out there’s no shortage of Nevada figures who, upon closer examination, are decidedly unworthy of having their names attached to parks, schools, roads and buildings – including a slew of former county commissioners.

If renaming McCarran International Airport makes sense from an economic perspective, then do it. But for political reasons? Not so much.

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