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What's in a name?

February 23, 1998
By: Joe Stange
State Capital Bureau

Joe can be reached at his home office: 442-1466

JEFFERSON CITY - Several weeks ago, Sen. Walter Mueller was at his church when a constituent approached him with a question:

Shouldn't it be unethical to name a public building after a politician who is still in office?

Mueller, R-St. Louis County, responded by sponsoring legislation that would prohibit naming public facilities after elected officials who still hold their seats.

"In my mind, it's a matter of ethics," he said before the bill was introduced to the Senate Corrections Committee Monday.

Mueller said there are vital questions people should ask whenever a monument is made to someone still in an influential position.

"What was the return for having been given that name? Was someone given a special offering? [This bill] eliminates the question on both sides of the coin."

He made it clear to the committee that he wasn't targeting anybody currently in office, including Sen. Jim Mathewson.

Mathewson, D-Sedalia, told the Missourian he was honored when an exhibition center was named after him on the Missouri State Fairgrounds ten years ago.

He said he didn't agree with Mueller that it should be unethical.

"I've got mine, so I don't care," Mathewson said jokingly.

If constituents want to honor a public servant who's done a good job, they should be allowed to without the government interfering, he said.

"We ought to leave some things alone. I don't have a problem with it. We probably don't do enough of it, to tell you the truth."

If signed into law, the bill would only affect those elected to a statewide position. Hence, Missourians could name a public building after President Bill Clinton, but not after Gov. Mel Carnahan until he leaves office.

The Corrections Committee chairman, Sen. John Scott, D-St. Louis City, mentioned that former Sen. Emory Melton had a building named after him while he was still in office.

"This has been going on for years," Scott said.

As chairman of the bill's committee, Scott will have some control over the bill's fate, but he said he has yet to form an opinion on Mueller's idea.

Mueller used the Ronald Reagan National Airport in Washington D.C. as an example.

"If [Reagan] had been at the seat of the presidency and been given that honor, you'd wonder why it was offered."