As local Democrats step up their lobbying of the Orange County Board of Supervisors to rename John Wayne Airport, the suggestion looks unlikely for now to make it onto the board’s agenda.
All five of the supervisors seem loathe to publicly discuss a name change, and several declined interview requests.
The legendary late actor has been criticized for remarks he made in a 1971 interview with Playboy magazine that included a slur against gay people, the sentiment that white colonists driving Native Americans off their ancestral lands was “just a matter of survival” because “the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves,” and this comment: “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.”
Wayne’s son, Ethan, has defended his father, saying that those who knew him recall a man who was accepting and respectful of people’s differences, and that he shouldn’t be judged solely on a few offensive comments made decades ago that he’s no longer around to explain.
“There is no question that the words spoken by John Wayne in an interview 50 years ago have caused pain and anger,” Ethan Wayne said in a recent statement to the newspaper. “They pained him as well, as he realized his true feelings were wrongly conveyed.”
Last week, Democratic Party of Orange County Chairwoman Ada Briceño sent the board a letter asking that Wayne’s name be removed from the airport because “our increasingly diverse county is not well represented by Wayne,” and because it can be confusing for travelers – airlines typically refer to the stop as Santa Ana or Orange County, and its airport code is SNA.
Supervisors Michelle Steel, who chairs the board, and Lisa Bartlett say they’re not interested in changing the name the airport has had since 1979, and Supervisor Don Wagner said the issue has been raised before and has “never gotten any legs.”
“I am skeptical, but I have at this point still got to think about it further, whether or not there’s even an issue that comes to us” on the board agenda, Wagner said. “I don’t see a groundswell of support from the public for the renaming.”
Steel recently sent out a prepared statement that said Wayne “led the movement to make Orange County home to Vietnamese refugees,” supported U.S. troops and lent his name to the family’s cancer research foundation. Although Wayne’s remarks in the Playboy interview were “wrong and sad,” Steel said she believes “that a person should be judged on the totality of their actions and contributions to society, which is why I support keeping the name John Wayne Airport.”
On Friday, Bartlett’s spokeswoman Pauline Colvin said the supervisor was not available, but “she does not support the renaming of John Wayne Airport, period, at all.”
Supervisor Andrew Do said in a Monday text message that since there’s no proposed action on the board’s agenda, there’s nothing for him to address. Supervisor Doug Chaffee, the board’s sole Democrat, declined to comment via a spokeswoman.
But just because the board declines to take up the issue doesn’t mean it will die right away. USC officials announced Friday they would remove an exhibit on the actor from the university’s film school, and O.C. Democrats protested outside the airport on Saturday, July 11.
The issue is also likely to come up during public comments when the supervisors meet on Tuesday, July 14.