Senator pushes for Reagan day

Tuesday, February 1, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 8:01 p.m. CDT, Sunday, July 20, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — It’s a short list.

George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Harry S. Truman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Christopher Columbus. Those are the men Missouri honors with state holidays.

Now, one state senator wants to add another name. Sen. John Loudon, R-St. Louis County, is sponsoring a bill that would declare the late President Ronald Reagan’s birthday, Feb. 6, 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, belongs to a younger generation of Republican lawmakers. Thanks to term limits, the GOP’s takeover in Jefferson City and the passage of time, the capital is swelling with young Republicans. Gov. Matt Blunt, the speaker of the house and five of Missouri’s 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 celebrates his birthday officially.

The holiday proposed in Missouri would not give state employees a day off work. Instead, the bill specifies that it would chiefly serve as a day to remember Reagan’s “public service” and “humanitarian principles.”

Sen. Pat Dougherty, D-St. Louis, scoffed at the idea.

“We’d probably have to work overtime and not get paid for it,” he said of the holiday.

Loudon has also sponsored a bill that would use Reagan’s name on a downtown St. Louis bridge to be built over the Mississippi River. Reagan won both the 1980 and 1984 presidential elections in Missouri but lost the staunchly Democratic city of St. Louis by a 2-to-1 margin both times. If Loudon’s bill passes, St. Louis residents will have a bridge named after a candidate whom 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,” Loudon 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 — I don’t think so,” Dougherty said.

The bridge proposal awaits approval from the Transportation Committee that Dolan chairs.

“I’m as big a fan (of Reagan), if not a bigger fan, than Sen. Loudon,” Dolan said. “But when we get a bridge, I’ll name a bridge.”

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