MIAMI, Okla. — Route 66 is known by many names — the Mother Road, America’s Main Street and, at least in Oklahoma, the Will Rogers Memorial Highway.
Now, a section of the road, running between Commerce and Miami, may get another moniker, as two Oklahoma state senators want to name a portion of the road in the northeast corner of the state after President Donald Trump.
Sen. Nathan Dahm, R-Broken Arrow, and his co-author, Sen. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, have drafted a bill naming a section of Route 66 from Commerce to the industrial park in Miami after Trump.
Dahm began the legislative steps Tuesday. While there were reports that he had pulled the legislation, Dahm on Thursday said that was incorrect.
“We are willing to look at other options, but we are still pursing the bill as is,” Dahm said. “I told statewide organizations and entities I would be more than willing to look at other options.”
Dahm said Route 66, because of its significance, remains his first choice.
“The Mother Road is larger than life, just like President Trump,” Dahm said. “We wanted to do something at the same level as President Trump, either there, or somewhere else.
They chose the stretch of Route 66 that enters the state because of the symbolic nature presented by a town named Commerce.
“We wanted to recognize this president and the conservative values,” Quinn said. “The obvious choice was Commerce. We had no intent to diminish the road itself, or to be hurtful or harmful.
Lt. Gov. Matt Pinnell, who also serves as the state’s secretary for tourism and branding, said he is working with Dahm and Quinn to pursue other options rather than change the branding of Route 66.
“Route 66 is called one thing, Historic Route 66,” Pinnell said. “We need to be very sensitive to creating an easy, navigable route. The more signage we add, the more confusion there is. That is the last thing we need, as there is a renaissance taking place with Route 66.”
State Sen. Michael Bergstrom, who represents Ottawa, Delaware, Mayes and Craig counties, was another who wanted Route 66 left alone.
“The name Route 66 is historically important, it is iconic," he said. "As we move forward with our plans for commemorating the Mother Road's hundredth anniversary and expanding our tourism with that, it's best if we avoid anything that might be a distraction.”
While state Rep. Josh West, R-Grove, does not have a problem with naming a roadway after the president, as the chairman of the House Tourism Committee, he does not want to jeopardize the impact Route 66 has within the state’s economy.
“It’s an economic driver for the communities (along the roadway) and the state,” West said. “There are thousands of miles of roadway in Oklahoma. They can choose another road.
“I don’t see the need to change Historic Route 66. People drive on it for the nostalgic experience.
The section of Route 66 under consideration by Dahm and Quinn falls within an area represented by Rep. Ben Loring, D-Miami, and Sen. Micheal Bergstrom, R-Adair. Neither men were consulted before word of the potential legislation hit the news.
Loring said he was frustrated because he learned of the issue when constituents began calling him with concerns. He worries naming the roadway after Trump would detract from the town’s primary legacy — Mickey Mantle.
He also questions naming the roadway after someone who is still living, adding he would still be against the measure if it sought to honor former Presidents Barack Obama or Bill Clinton.
He also questions why the men chose to make the proposal take place in another legislator’s district.
Both Miami Mayor Rudy Schultz and Commerce Mayor Michael Hart learned about the possible legislation as news broke of the senators' plans. Both men said they were surprised neither Dahm nor Quinn had contacted local officials for their input on the issue.
As of Thursday, neither mayor had spoken to the two senators. Dahm indicated on Thursday he wanted to have the bill filed — to see the public response — before contacting local officials.
Schultz raised concerns on how this legislation may affect the branding efforts led by Pinnell, making Route 66 the centerpiece of the state’s tourism outreach. He said he is against anything that goes in contrary to that branding.
Hart wondered whether Dahm and Quinn had traveled to Commerce to see what takes place in the small town thanks to Route 66.
Impacting tourism, business
Amanda Davis, executive director of the Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Charlotte Howe, president and CEO of the Miami Regional Chamber of Commerce, have both raised concerns regarding the proposed name changes.
“Route 66 is a national treasure,” Davis said. “I think we have to be very careful to keep politics completely out of it. I understand they want to do something to honor the president — that is not a bad idea — but we don’t want to do anything that would distract or draw attention away from (the road).”
Davis said the roadway’s attachment to Will Roger’s legacy is a huge selling point when marketing Route 66 to tourists.
Davis said naming a roadway within Oklahoma after Trump has merits.
“Honoring the president is an important thing,” Davis said. “But we need to keep (Route 66) for what it is. For Commerce that means Mickey Mantle.”
Howe echoed Davis’ belief that Route 66 plays an important role in Northeast Oklahoma.
“People want to drive Route 66 to see America,” Howe said. “This helps chamber members because visitors come to Miami, see how great it is, shop in our stores and get gas at our stations. Route 66 is vital to our local economy.”