What's in a Building's Name? A Lot of Tax Dollars

One man has had enough of tax dollars being spent on "temples to living people."

March 21, 2007 — -- America is home to many monuments and great buildings that honor some of our great leaders, like Abraham Lincoln, George Washington and Thomas Jefferson.

But lately, it seems like we've been lowering the bar. Mississippi Sen. Trent Lott has a lot of things named after him in his state: the middle school, the airport, the Trent Lott Center at Jackson State University and the list goes on.

West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd has even more named after him. We counted more than 30 buildings, a bridge and even a telescope.

And Byrd isn't at all embarrassed to have buildings named after him.

"I'm exceedingly proud and thankful that this has been accomplished; this is opening the land of promise, like the land of Canaan," he said at the opening of the Robert C. Byrd BioTechnology Science Center at Marshall State University.

But not everyone thinks this is a good trend. Dan Greenberg is an Arkansas state legislator who tried to ban politicians from naming buildings after themselves.

"This is a practice that's got to stop," Greenberg said. "For me, it just comes too close to using taxpayer money to build temples to living people."

This practice of naming buildings after public figures is relatively new. The Lincoln Memorial didn't appear until more than 50 years after Lincoln's death. The Washington Monument came 89 years after Washington's death.

Building Temples to Themselves?

"In the old days we had a tradition of waiting to judge a person's whole life before we named a building after them," Greenberg said. "Now we have this modern trend of … naming buildings after politicians while they're in the prime of life. And you know, that creates a problem. If we're gonna use taxpayer money to publicize ourselves, if we're gonna use taxpayer money to build temples to ourselves. … That's very dangerous."

Greenberg's former governor is Mike Huckabee, who's now running for president. Huckabee has nature centers and schools named after him. Even his wife has things named for her, such as the Mike and Janet Huckabee Lake.

What made Greenberg say "enough" was when he discovered there was a park named after him and a bunch of other legislators.

"The worst thing was that another county legislator said, 'I appreciate you putting my name on this sign, but you did not put it in my campaign colors,'" Greenberg said. "And that was so distasteful. I just said to myself, 'Enough.'"

The No Naming Bill

So, Greenberg introduced House Bill 1035 to ban this activity. The "no naming" bill didn't get a warm reception from his fellow politicians: It was quickly killed in committee by a vote of 11-3.

One legislator asked Greenberg, "Don't you think we should be acknowledged for doing a good job?"

But Greenberg says he fears "we're acknowledging them for just getting elected."

The Cochran Courthouse

Elsewhere in America, people want to say "enough" to naming buildings after politicians.

One empty lot in Mississippi will soon become a courthouse named after Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran.

"I mean, my God. … That's a billboard for every re-election campaign. Every time you pass the courthouse, you see his name," said one person interviewed by ABC News outside the courthouse.

"I think it's just wrong," another person said.

Some people wanted the courthouse named after one of Mississippi's first black lawyers -- R. Jess Brown -- but Lott had other ideas. It should be called the Cochran courthouse, he says, because Cochran got Congress to spend $100 million of your tax money to build it.

That upsets Brown's children.

"I feel that the building should be named after my father, R. Jess Brown, instead of Sen. Cochran," said Jacqueline Brown.

All About Ego

Some people walking past the courthouse said politicians already did enough for themselves.

"Don't put a politician's name on it. A politician's already received enough from the American public," said one person.

"That's all it's for -- it's for political gain and after they retire so somebody'd remember who they are," said another passerby.

Don't expect it to change anytime soon. Politicians like seeing their names on buildings while getting you to pay for it. It's an ego boost that makes them feel important. And when it comes to feeding politicians' enormous egos, it seems they can never get enough.