Obama administration reverts Mount McKinley to original name, Ohio Republicans freak out

There is no reason for Mount McKinley to be named Mount McKinley. McKinley never climbed it. He never even visited Alaska. The mountain, which is the highest point in North America, was named for the soon-to-be-president by a gold prospector in 1896, despite the fact that everyone else who lived in the area called the peak Denali.

President Wilson officially recognized the new name in 1917, but Alaskans continued to refer to the peak as Denali. When the state changed the peak’s name to coincide with the creation of the Denali National Park and Preserve in 1980, but the federal government did not follow suit. As reported by the Alaska Dispatch News:

Every year, the same story plays out in Washington, D.C.: Alaska legislators sometimes file bills to change the name from Mount McKinley to Denali, and every year, someone in the Ohio congressional delegation — the home state of the 25th President William McKinley — files legislation to block a name change.

Which gives a new definition to the word “petty.”

But yesterday, in advance of his trip to Alaska to talk about climate change, Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell announced that the federal government would, finally, recognize the peak as Denali, a change that she said was “a long time coming.” The change is permissible without an act of Congress due to a 1947 law that allows the Secretary of the Interior to rename landmarks through the U.S. Board on Geographical Names.

As one could imagine, when you combine the pettiness of Ohio state pride with the pettiness of Republicans’ unbridled opposition to all things Obama, you get some positively amazing press releases.

Here’s what House Speaker John Boehner had to say:

There is a reason President McKinley’s name has served atop the highest peak in North America for more than 100 years, and that is because it is a testament to his great legacy. McKinley served our country with distinction during the Civil War as a member of the Army. He made a difference for his constituents and his state as a member of the House of Representatives and as Governor of the great state of Ohio. And he led this nation to prosperity and victory in the Spanish-American War as the 25th President of the United States. I’m deeply disappointed in this decision.

Rob Portman didn’t issue a press release, instead turning to Twitter to express dismay that the administration would ignore Congress in order to reject the legacy of a proud Ohioan:

The most mad-libbed response, however, came from Congressman Bob Gibbs, who was my representative when I was at Kenyon. As Gibbs wrote:

Denali, via Wikimedia Commons

Denali, via Wikimedia Commons

Congress passed the law in 1917 establishing the name of Mt. McKinley, and another act of Congress is required to make any further name changes. President McKinley is a well respected American hero who deserves to be honored and I hope my colleagues will join with me in stopping this constitutional overreach. President Obama has decided to ignore an act of Congress in unilaterally renaming Mt. McKinley in order to promote his job-killing War on Energy. This political stunt is insulting to all Ohioans, and I will be working with the House Committee on Natural Resources to determine what can be done to prevent this action.

By fitting “constitutional overreach,” “job-killing,” “War on [issue]” and “political stunt” into the same paragraph, Gibbs, who introduced legislation in January to prevent changes to the peak’s name, wins Republican bingo for the day. Also, given the fact that the Secretary of the Interior absolutely does have the authority to make name changes, a power granted by an act of Congress, Gibbs’s statement is as factually incorrect as it is outraged.

At the end of the day, this really shouldn’t be that big of a deal for anyone other than the people of Alaska, whose name for the mountain has been ignored by the federal government for nearly 100 years. There are plenty of other things we can name for President McKinley that would make more sense (perhaps something in Ohio, or a place he actually visited).

Alaska’s congressional delegation, and residents, are (predictably) elated with the decision.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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14 Responses to “Obama administration reverts Mount McKinley to original name, Ohio Republicans freak out”

  1. kimn8r says:

    We should also rename the state of Ohio to Homophobistan. Ohio is as ill-relevant today as it was back then.

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  3. BeccaM says:

    Funny detail: When ‘She Who Must Not Be Named’ mentioned the mountain, she referred to it as Denali, just like the rest of Alaskans.

  4. Bob Munck says:

    .1,550 ft. of pure magnificence.

    That’s its altitude above sea level. The “mountain” towers 250 feet above the town of Bellefontaine and 700 feet above the state of Ohio.

  5. fry1laurie says:

    It’s Campbell Hill. Not even a mountain.1,550 ft. of pure magnificence.

  6. nicho says:

    In retaliation, the GOP is going to stop calling it Obamacare and start calling it The Affordable Care Act. So there!

  7. Bob Munck says:

    Rob Portman: “Pres McKinley was a proud Ohioan, and the mountain was named after him, as a way to remember his rich legacy after his assassination”

    Given that it was named before McKinley was president, Portman is wrong, as always.

  8. Bob Munck says:

    Trending Google search: “What is the tallest mountain in Ohio?” It would be truly wonderful if the answer were Mt. Reagan.

  9. nicho says:

    I’m sure all these people were up in arms when Cape Kennedy was changed back to Cape Canaveral in 1973.

  10. BeccaM says:

    So much for ‘states rights’, eh?

  11. MoonDragon says:

    Exactly how many Ohioans know who McKinley is? How many know he was from Ohio? How many give a rat’s ass about a pile of rock in Alaska that regularly kills idiots?

  12. KarenJ says:

    Also, too, when the majority of Americans think “the people of Alaska”, they think of the dip-spitting redneck roustabouts who migrated up from Louisiana and Texas oilfields to work on the North Slope of Alaska drilling for Shell and Exxon. Sarah Palin’s people. They don’t usually think of the people who actually named the mountain “Denali”.

  13. 2karmanot says:

    You betcha! I can see Denali from my house!

  14. Demosthenes says:

    Wait! Speaker Boehner was sober long enough to oppose this change? He must be cutting back on Bourbon.

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