Late Sunday, U.S. Rep. John Boehner, an Ohio Republican and Speaker of the House, said he was “deeply disappointed” that President Obama allowed U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell to restore Denali’s name from Mount McKinley.
On Monday, Jewell said it doesn’t matter.
“The name change is official. The mountain is Denali. I’ve already signed the paperwork. You can cheer if you like; I hope that you do,” she told Alaska reporters in a brief meeting during the GLACIER conference in Anchorage.
Jewell said she signed the paperwork Aug. 28.
Since the decision was announced Sunday, Ohio lawmakers have been as opposed as Alaskans have been enthusiastic.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One, Gov. Bill Walker said the White House had told him a few weeks ago they were considering renaming the peak formerly known as McKinley, but it was a “big surprise” to him when he saw it on the front page of the newspaper Monday.
In addition to Boehner’s comments, U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said in a series of tweets that “the decision is yet another example of the president going around Congress.”
Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who is running for the Republican presidential nomination, said the President overstepped his bounds.
In Ohio, just as Alaska, the name issue transcends party boundaries.
“We must retain this national landmark’s name to honor the legacy of this great president and patriot,” said U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, a Democrat whose district includes McKinley’s hometown.
The mountain’s name became a political issue in 1975 when Alaska Gov. Jay Hammond and the Alaska Legislature passed a measure calling for the U.S. Board on Geographic Names to restore the mountain’s name to Denali from Mount McKinley, the name it had since 1896.
The board would have made the change, but it was prohibited from acting if Congressional action was pending.
With the board considering a change, Ohio Rep. Ralph Regula introduced legislation to keep the McKinley name – and kept doing it every session of Congress until he retired in 2009.
The 1980 Alaska National Interest Lands Act gave Denali National Park its name but kept the Mount McKinley name as an attempt at compromise.
Jewell said that while the Ohio delegation kept blocking the name change, there was something that could be done.
“It also says that if (the name issue) is not resolved in a reasonable period of time, the Secretary of the Interior has the ability to make that change. I don’t think there’s anybody that would argue that 40 years is a reasonable period of time,” she said. “It’s an unreasonably long period of time, and therefore, under my authority, I made the change.”
Jewell added that the National Park Service will search for something else inside the park that could be dedicated to McKinley.
McKinley had just earned the Republican nomination for president in 1896 when a gold miner claimed the mountain’s “discovery” and named it in honor of the candidate. The mountain stands as North America’s tallest at 20,237 feet above sea level. “Denali” in Athabascan means “the high one” or “the great one.”