Its names are legion

We’re not clear on why the name of the Reno airport is a concern of Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak. We are quite certain, however, that he is blundering in without adequate knowledge of the terrain.

The airport was once called Reno Municipal Airport, then—with arrival of customs facilities—Reno International Airport. In the 1970s, its governing board changed that name to Cannon International Airport, and all hell broke loose. The Cannon at issue was U.S. Sen. Howard Cannon, then an incumbent Democrat whose fans at the airport thought they were honoring him. The change was sprung on the public, either because the governing board chose to do it that way or because local journalists did not give the public advance word, generating wide anger. At any rate, the resentment over the “issue” was so pronounced in Washoe County that it may well have cost Cannon his reelection in 1982.

Later, the airport was renamed Reno Cannon International Airport. Still later, Cannon’s name was dropped entirely from the airport and attached to the terminal building, where it remains. (One confused federal directory calls it Reno/Tahoe Cannon International Airport.)

Then the governing board screwed things up again. With Reno’s attraction as a tourist destination waning, the board decided to piggyback onto Tahoe’s greater appeal and embarrassed the community by changing the name to Reno-Tahoe International Airport. There it remains, a prominent case of false advertising.

Now Sisolak, the governor-elect, is trying to get Reno to go back into the water by naming the airport after Paul Laxalt, a former governor and U.S. senator who once lost a race to Howard Cannon. Sisolak also wants Las Vegas’s McCarran International Airport renamed for Harry Reid.

We don’t see any particular reason to name public works after politicians. Howard Cannon got lots of federal resources for the airport. But that was his job. It wasn’t anything above or beyond his responsibility as senator. Pat McCarran’s name is on the Las Vegas airport for the same misbegotten reasons. And there is even less reason to attach Laxalt’s name to an airport. He served during a significant era as governor, but was an undistinguished senator and certainly was not associated with aviation issues. There is a major building in Carson City named for him.

If public works are going to be named after individuals, it should be for those who do go above and beyond, such as Walter Van Tilburg Clark, Evelyn Mount, Joe Crowley. It would also be a good policy not to name anything after living persons (the policy used on postage stamps). That would allow some time to pass to decide whether there is enduring reason for naming. Even then, there is a danger of naming things in the emotional aftermath of deaths.

Washoe County once had a problem with school board members naming schools after themselves. Legislation was introduced to curb the practice. It did not pass, but it sent a message to the school board, which knocked it off.

It would be nice if a clear public policy for naming things in Nevada were written. In the meantime, Sisolak as governor-elect has better uses for his time than repaying political debts by naming airports. Governing is approaching, remember?