WASHINGTON - A congressional disagreement over Alaskan fishing rights has apparently turned into a mountain-sized dispute over stripping President McKinley's name from North America's highest peak.
House Resources Committee Chairman Don Young, R-Alaska, has introduced a bill to rename the 20,320-foot-tall peak Denali, which means "high one" in the Athabascan native tongue.
He said the mountain was called Denali until a prospector "arbitrarily" renamed it Mount McKinley in 1896. He said that the Alaska Legislature approved restoring the name in 1975 but it's subject to approval by the federal government.
"Congress should end a long-running, 26-year controversy and name the mountain after what the people of the state of Alaska want it to be called - Denali," Young said.
But Rep. Ralph Regula, R-Ohio, whose district was once represented by McKinley in Congress, says Young introduced the bill because Regula helped to kill an effort to have the Kosovo supplemental spending bill include language to allow commercial fishing in Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park.
"They are doing this to get at me personally," said Regula, who has secured money to turn McKinley's former home in Canton into a library on first ladies. "He is a martyred president from Canton, Ohio, and if someone wanted to rename the Kennedy Center, the Massachusetts people would be a little upset."
Regula said Young is violating a 1980 agreement to honor Indian tribes by changing the name of the national park that surrounds the mountain to Denali, while preserving the tribute to the 25th president, who was assassinated in 1901.
"President McKinley was the president of the entire country, so it is entirely fitting that a national monument bear his name," Regula said. "The park and the mountain are federal lands, not state lands, and their maintenance is paid for by all Americans, not just Alaskans."
Young's spokesman, Steve Hansen, said that he had heard of no agreement to bar the renaming of the mountain and that the bill's timing was coincidental. He said that because Young chairs the committee that would consider the bill, it has a strong chance of reaching the House floor.
"I respectfully suggest the gentleman from Ohio redesignate a federal forest or similar landmark of his district after President McKinley if he wishes to honor this great president's memory," Young said.