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Republicans seek to enshire Reagan

January 31, 2005
By: Ben Welsh
State Capital Bureau

JEFFERSON CITY - It's a short list.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Martin Luther King Jr., Christopher Columbus. They are the men who have Missouri state holidays in their honor.

And if one state senator gets his way, Ronald Reagan will join the club.

A bill sponsored by Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, would enshrine the former president's birthday -- Feb. 6 -- as Missouri's newest holiday.

"He represented a watershed," Loudon said. "He was so unique and I don't want that memory to be forgotten. The cold war was very real and he ended it."

Loudon, 37, is part a younger generation of Republican lawmakers who have moved into the state capital. Thanks to term limits, the GOP's takeover in Jefferson City and the passage of time, the Legislature has swelled with young Republicans. Five of the 22 Republican state senators were too young to vote for Reagan when he ran for president in 1980.

"We grew up with Ronald Reagan lunch boxes," said Sen. Jon Dolan (R-St. Charles County). "I think that the Alex P. Keaton in me worships and understands the greatness that is Reagan."

Loudon comes from a long line of active Republicans. He knocked on doors for the GOP as a teenager and said that even though he was only 13 when Reagan was elected president, he knew then that the new commander-in-chief was something special.

"A funny thing happened. I picked up a copy of the Communist Manifesto and read it," Loudon said. "I read 1984. I did the math and I realized that the rational view of those would-be totalitarians would be to attack us. That would be the rational view. When Reagan ran he understood that we had to build up the military to stave off that attack."

Reagan's home state of Illinois already officially celebrates his birthday.

The holiday proposed here in Missouri would not give state employees the day off from work. The bill specifies that it would chiefly serve as a day to remember Reagan's "public service" and "humanitarian principles."

Sen. Pat Dougherty, a Democrat from St. Louis, scoffed at the idea of Reagan Day.

"We'd probably have to work overtime and not get paid for it," Dougherty said.

Loudon has also sponsored a bill that would name a yet to be constructed bridge over the Mississippi River in downtown St. Louis the Ronald Wilson Reagan Bridge.

Reagan won Missouri in both 1980 and 1984 but he lost the staunchly Democratic city of St. Louis by a two-to-one margin in each race. If Loudon's bill passes, St. Louis citizens will have a bridge named after a candidate most of them voted against twice.

"While the footprints on the Missouri side will be in the city of St. Louis it will also be in the land mass that is the state of Missouri." Loudan said. "The people of Missouri will build the bridge. It just so happens it falls in the city of St. Louis. They're good people but they don't always get it right."

Dougherty suggested naming the bridge after Franklin Roosevelt instead.

"Not to denigrate what [Reagan] did with the cold war but to take one element out of a presidency and say it's worthy of naming a bridge," Dougherty said. "I don't think so."

The proposal to name the unbuilt bridge after Reagan is now waiting for approval from the transportation committee that Dolan chairs.

I'm as big a fan, if not a bigger fan than Sen. Loudon," Dolan said. "But when we get a bridge, I'll name a bridge."