Little Rock airport renamed to honor Clintons

March 20, 2012 - 6:15 PM

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Travelers flying into Little Rock will now be reminded of Arkansas' most famous political couple after officials voted Tuesday to rename the city's airport after Bill and Hillary Clinton.

The Little Rock Municipal Airport Commission unanimously agreed to change the name of the Little Rock National Airport to honor former President Bill Clinton and his wife, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The former president, an Arkansas native and the state's former governor, said they were humbled.

"We are grateful for this honor and for all that the people of Arkansas have done for us. And we look forward to many happy landings at the airport in the years ahead," he said in a statement.

Just minutes after the commission meeting, which attracted an overflow crowd of supporters and opponents of the name change, airport receptionists began welcoming callers to the Bill and Hillary Clinton National Airport. The airport serves about 2.2 million passengers annually and is undergoing a $67 million renovation project that began last year.

"I'm pleased with the action today," Commission Chairman Jim Dailey said.

There was almost no discussion from commission members regarding the name change Tuesday. Dailey said the renaming process had been thoroughly vetted and that public feedback "heated up" in the last few days.

Among the opponents was Jimmy Jones, a Baptist minister from nearby Cleveland, Ark., who said he thought it "unreal" that a man whose marital discretions as president embarrassed the U.S. would be given the honor. Other detractors made similar comments.

But several local leaders, including Arkansas House Speaker-designate Darrin Williams, a Democrat from Little Rock, and Charles Stewart, chairman of the Arkansas Black Hall of Fame, lobbied for the renaming. The former president is a member of the hall of fame.

"The Clintons that I know are not perfect, but none of us in here are," said Jane Gray-Todd, who spoke in support of the renaming. "They have made accomplishments that none others have in this state."

Founded in 1917, the airport was purchased by Little Rock residents in 1930. A Federal Aviation Administration spokeswoman said the name change would be checked for conflicts and added to the national directory.

In addition to the airport, other buildings named for Bill Clinton in Arkansas include his presidential library, the University of Arkansas' school of public service and two public schools. His name also appears on a Little Rock street.

The only former presidents since 1960 without airports bearing their names are Richard Nixon, George W. Bush and Lyndon B. Johnson.