PHOENIX (AP) – A proposal to rename an Arizona mountain after an American Indian killed in Iraq has led to a surprisingly nasty fight between the Democratic governor and Republican lawmakers.

Gov. Janet Napolitano says she wants to honor Army Pfc. Lori Piestewa, a Hopi from northeastern Arizona who was the first military servicewoman to die in the war. The plan would also settle complaints about Phoenix’s Squaw Peak, a name many Indians find offensive.

But Napolitano has run into opposition from the board that oversees official state names and criticism from conservative lawmakers who say she’s using Piestewa’s death as political leverage.

“I think it sets the tone for what her governorship is going to be like,” GOP state Rep. John Allen said. “It’s going to be a very Clintonesque style in the sense where you take advantage (of the situation), no matter whose grief it is.”

Piestewa (pronounced py-ESS-tuh-wah) was among nine members of the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company killed in an ambush near Nasiriyah last month. Pfc. Jessica Lynch, another member of the 507th and Piestewa’s roommate, was rescued from an Iraqi hospital.

Piestewa was one of the few American Indian women in the armed forces, and Napolitano was cheered by mourners in Piestewa’s hometown of Tuba City last weekend when she promised to honor the soldier’s legacy by renaming the mountain and Squaw Peak Freeway in Phoenix.

Napolitano spokeswoman Kris Mayes said the governor decided to pursue the name change the moment she learned of Piestewa’s death.

“It’s an event of national and historical importance,” Mayes said. “I find it curious that lawmakers can’t recognize that.”

Napolitano has been at odds with conservative Republicans over her ideas for balancing next year’s state budget.

Republicans say her relatively light spending cuts could set the stage for a big tax hike, while the governor says the GOP’s proposed cuts will hurt social services.

Still, she seems to have fared well overall since taking office in January, launching a prescription drug discount program she had promised and reaching a bipartisan compromise to fix the current budget.

The Piestewa debate is small when compared to Arizona’s fiscal woes and won’t necessarily hurt Napolitano in future elections, said Fred Solop, a political science professor at Northern Arizona University.

Experts note the state’s political leanings have grown more moderate, exemplified by Napolitano’s slim victory in November over GOP former Rep. Matt Salmon.

Given that, the proposed name change seems an unlikely flash point for a fight.

Even before legislators weighed in, the chairman of the Arizona Geographic and Historic Names Board threatened to block Napolitano’s plan. He cited a requirement that people must be dead five years before their names can be used on geographic features.

Napolitano asked the board to waive the waiting period, arguing federal policies prohibit the use of derogatory racial terms on landmarks. Although some linguists disagree, critics say “squaw” is derived from an Indian word for female genitalia.

But Richard Pinkerton, a board member for 19 years, said he has never seen the panel grant a waiver. And it is unclear whether the board’s national counterpart, which makes the final call on name changes, ever approves waivers.

Squaw Peak has already survived several attempts to change its name, including a 1998 proposal to rename it after the late Sen. Barry Goldwater. The state board said it was too soon.

Solop contends the war lends statewide and national importance to the debate.

“Lori Piestewa becomes a symbol of the war in the sense that it represents diversity, some of the ideals the country is fighting for,” he said.

But several people approached in Phoenix said they weren’t familiar with the dispute. Others suggested the name change should honor either Piestewa or all Arizonans who have perished in war.

“If they want to rename it, it should be attributed to everybody, not just one person,” said Ruth Tamilio, a 59-year-old teacher. “They could call it Soldiers’ or Patriots’ Peak, something that has to do with everyone fighting.”

AP-ES-04-16-03 1541EDT



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