A fitting tribute to Gov. Reagan

Former Secretary of State George Shultz salutes a statue of his former boss, President Ronald Reagan, that was unveiled at the state Capitol on Monday.
Former Secretary of State George Shultz salutes a statue of his former boss, President Ronald Reagan, that was unveiled at the state Capitol on Monday. The Associated Press

Ronald Reagan is the hero who ended the Cold War and brought government to heel. He’s an anti-hero whose policies hurt poor people and blundered into an illegal war in Central America.

He is polarizing and iconic. He’s also the one governor from California who became president. Love him or not, he clearly is deserving of a statue in the Capitol. So there it is, for all to see and ponder, an 8-foot-tall bronze weighing 800 pounds, unveiled on Monday.

It stands in the “lower rotunda,” also known as the basement. Its location may not be ideal. But finding a place for it in the Capitol where Reagan served from 1967 to 1975 is entirely fitting.

Two Reagan cabinet secretaries were on hand for the event, Energy Secretary John Herrington and Secretary of State George Shultz. Shultz, 94, spoke for nearly 12 minutes without notes, telling stories of the Reagan he saw.

Reagan’s friend Doug Van Howd, an Auburn artist, sculpted the bronze, which depicts Gov. Reagan smiling and leaning slightly forward. His hair is in place, and his suit is well-tailored.

Nancy Reagan, who is 91, could not attend, but offered a gracious note of thanks and recollections of the Reagan years in Sacramento. She supplied photos showing the governor’s shoes, the tie and tie tack that are part of the bronze. The bronze is surrounded by artist Arthur F. Mathews’ murals depicting early California.

Sacramento communications consultant Doug Elmets, who worked in the Reagan White House when he was in his 20s, orchestrated the effort, three years in the making. He pushed to have the bill introduced to allow for the statue, and raised money for the sculpture from billionaires A. Jerold Perenchio and Rupert Murdoch, and Reagan’s attorney general, Edwin Meese III, among others.

Most of the people who crowded into the basement were Republicans. Several had connections to the governor and president. Only three Democratic legislators showed up, a pathetic showing.

No statewide office holders could break away from their busy schedules, including Gov. Jerry Brown, though Brown did sign the sculpture legislation, and included a signing message that cited Reagan’s “courage and unique leadership ability.”

Reagan’s admirers have worked to name buildings after their hero. You can quibble about whether to call it Reagan National Airport or National Airport. But the nation’s second-most visited Capitol needed something more to acknowledge Reagan’s time here than the portrait of him on the third floor of the old Capitol next to the impressionist portrait of young Gov. Brown.

Californians are known for their ability to forget history. But the Capitol is a place where history lives and should be celebrated.

Earl Warren is the only California governor who became chief justice of the Supreme Court. Surely, he is deserving of a Capitol statue. Hiram Johnson, a governor and U.S. senator, was the progressive father of the initiative. He warrants a statue as well. Reagan is an international figure who got his start in California. That is worth telling and retelling in an honest manner.