The two Oklahoma senators who want to rename four miles of Historic Route 66 for President Donald Trump would be wise to withdraw their proposal, for a number of reasons.
When Sens. Nathan Dahm and Marty Quinn filed their legislation earlier this week, they may have been hoping to curry favor with Trump, and putting his name on something tangible would have been a good way to do it. The 45th president, in his role as a real estate magnate, may have his brand on more buildings and other property than anyone else alive today. But the blatantly partisan move was controversial – a slap in the face not just to Oklahomans who didn’t vote for Trump, but to “favorite son” Will Rogers and Okies more deserving of such an honor.
Ironically, one of those worthy citizens was feted in similar fashion this week. Tahlequah’s State Rep. Matt Meredith presented a commemorative highway sign to Cindi Hoopingarner, whose son, Cherokee County Deputy Sean Cookson, died in a vehicular accident at the State Highway 82 and Gideon Road junction. Meredith, a former law enforcement officer, coauthored the bill to name a portion of S.H. 82 the “Deputy Sean Cookson Memorial Highway.” Cookson’s party registration, whatever it was, is irrelevant; the sacrifice he made for his home state is what counted.
Like Trump and the senators prepared to change history to endow him, Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell is a Republican. But Pinnell’s blunt assessment is shared by most Oklahomans: “I don’t care if you want to call it Mother Teresa Highway or Donald Trump Highway; there is only one thing to call it, and that’s Historic Route 66.” Pinnell’s word should carry weight, since he and others have been laboring for years to promote tourism around the “Mother Road,” which covers more miles here than in any other state. Pinnell knows the Trump moniker would turn off a considerable number of potential visitors – especially from “blue” states, where residents tend to have more disposable income than their “red” counterparts.
The backlash was immediate, and came from all sides of the political spectrum. Trump doesn’t hail from Oklahoma, and has spent only a few hours of his life here, to campaign for himself or others. Dahm and Quinn insist Trump deserves the honor because of all the “great things” he’s done for the Sooner State, but many Okies – including those who supported Trump in 2016 and may again in 2020 – would be hard-pressed to come up with the evidence.
On the other hand, Will Rogers – for whom 66 is already designated – is the most famous Oklahoman, with Jim Thorpe a close second. These men lived, breathed and worked here, and honored their heritage – which is why tourists come from all over the world to follow in their footsteps. Very few would drive along Route 66 in hopes of seeing Trump’s name in bold letters, and if they want that, they can do it in Chicago, where the celebrated highway begins and he owns a skyscraper.
It’s fair to ask why, if Dahm and Quinn feel such reverence for Trump, they did not propose renaming a stretch of highway in their own districts, instead of choosing an area served primarily by Democrat Ben Loring. How would they and their constituents feel if Loring wanted to dub a few miles in their districts The Barack Obama Highway?
Dahm and Quinn indicate they’ll still pursue a patch of road for Trump, despite objections, but they need to find better things to do with their time if they’re serious about serving all Oklahomans, rather than just the president and his base. This state has plenty to keep them busy without bringing Trump into the fray.