Five years ago, Columbia County commissioners signed onto a national campaign that sought to put the name Ronald Reagan on public property around the country. As a result, Washington West Drive in front of the county government offices became Ronald Reagan Drive.
Five days ago, the street's namesake passed away. Along with the end of a monumental era in politics, the death of Ronald Wilson Reagan brings a symbolic end to this newspaper's objection to the renaming of the street in his honor.
When former Reagan campaign worker Merle Temple (whose letter to the editor is published in this edition) began lobbying for the name change five years ago, our opposition focused on two points:
First was our long-standing opposition to naming public projects for living people. This also partly explains our continuing opposition to the renaming of Clarks Hill Lake for Strom Thurmond; though Thurmond died last year, we agree with Georgia lawmakers that the lake still should be called Clarks Hill.
Second was the belief that many distinguished local residents should be first in line for such honors. Reagan strongly believed, as did his long-time political nemesis Tip O'Neill, that "all politics is local" -- and much of his effort to cut federal taxes was intended to encourage local governments to pay for local services, rather than looking to a federal sugar daddy for handouts. Naming a local street after Reagan seemed very un-Reaganesque.
Still, the love for Reagan can't be underestimated; nor can his impact, from local to international. While he is perhaps best remembered for bringing the Soviet Union to an end, locally he will be credited with growing a grass-roots movement that led Columbia County to elect its first Republican sheriff and its first Republican (and female) school board member.
The elections of Otis Hensley and Suzanne Scott in 1984 -- while Reagan was winning a landslide re-election -- signaled the death-knell for a local Democratic Party that had been running for years on the fumes of tradition. Within less than a decade, every Democrat elected official in Columbia County had either been turned out of office in favor of a Republican, or had converted to the GOP.
It was such an all-Republican Commission delegation that, in 1999, unanimously voted to rename a central street in our county for The Great Communicator, who just five years earlier had acknowledged the onset of the debilitating disease that finally claimed him five days ago.
Ronald Reagan, may God rest his soul, is no longer with us, but the Columbia County street named in his honor will continue to run past the seat of a local government forever transformed by his character, conviction and charisma.
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