Orange County’s Democratic Party is hoping sundown is on the horizon for the Duke.
This week, officials passed an emergency resolution condemning film legend John Wayne’s “racist and bigoted statements” made decades ago and are calling on the Orange County Board of Supervisors to drop his name, statue and other likenesses from the international airport.
The resolution also asked the board “to restore its original name: Orange County Airport.”
“There have been past efforts to get this done and now we’re putting our name and our backing into this to make sure there is a name change,” said Ada Briceño, chair of the Democratic Party of Orange County.
According to the crafters of the resolution, who include Briceño, the effort to oust Wayne is part of “a national movement to remove white supremacist symbols and names [that are] reshaping American institutions, monuments, businesses, nonprofits, sports leagues and teams.”
The resolution adds: “It is widely recognized that racist symbols produce lasting physical and psychological stress and trauma particularly to Black communities, people of color and other oppressed groups.”
The resolution notes that the county is much more diverse than it was in 1979, when Orange County Airport was christened John Wayne Airport.
Democrats point to a Chapman University survey released earlier this year that said 79% of county residents polled believe “that O.C.’s increasing ethnic diversity is a source of great strength for the region.”
At the heart of the latest drive is a widely discussed 1971 Playboy interview in which Wayne makes bigoted statements against Black people, Native Americans and the LGBTQ community.
He infamously said, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility. I don't believe in giving authority and positions of leadership and judgment to irresponsible people.”
He later said that although he didn’t condone slavery, “I don't feel guilty about the fact that five or 10 generations ago these people were slaves.”
He also felt no remorse in the subjugation of Native Americans.
“I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. … [O]ur so-called stealing of this country from them was just a matter of survival,” he said. “There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.”
He also considered movies such as "Easy Rider" and "Midnight Cowboy" perverted, and used a gay slur to refer to the two main characters of the latter film.
Briceño believes the renaming is possible because of two factors: changing demographics and the wave of protests following the police killing of George Floyd.
Last year, registered Democrats outnumbered registered Republicans in the county that embraced Wayne and GOP Presidents Reagan and Nixon.
“The numbers have grown since last year to where I believe we have something like 40,000 more Democrats than Republicans,” Briceño said.
She added that the protests after the death of Floyd, killed by a Minneapolis police officer who kneeled on his neck for almost nine minutes, has put police brutality and white supremacism in the faces of Americans who had not witnessed such aggression.
“Who wants to be tied to white supremacy?” Briceño asked.
The resolution was signed by Briceño; Fred Smoller, Chapman University associate professor of political science; and Michael Moodian, Chapman lecturer of leadership studies.
Smoller and Moodian wrote an op-ed for the Voice of OC on June 23 in which they stated, “as Confederate statues and odes to Christopher Columbus are taken down across the country, Orange County must come to grips with its own tribute to a racially polarizing figure: John Wayne. The time has come to rename our airport and remove Wayne’s statue.”
There is also a separate petition calling for the removal of Wayne’s name that has gathered more than 600 signatures.
The airport is situated between the cities of Newport Beach, Costa Mesa and Santa Ana.
Newport Beach City Councilman Kevin Muldoon, who in 2017, as that city’s mayor, led a push to name a city park after Wayne, did not return a phone call seeking comment.
Wayne lived a good portion of his life in Newport Beach, was a county political power broker and a member of the John Birch Society and was buried in the city after his death in 1979.
Calls and an email to Orange County Supervisor Michelle Steel, whose district includes the airport, were not immediately returned, nor was a call to Orange County Republican Party Chairman Fred Whitaker.
Orange County Supervisor Don Wagner said he had just heard about the Democratic resolution and was unaware of its wording or merit.
He mentioned previous renaming efforts had “popped up periodically” and usually “don’t have legs” with Orange County residents.
When asked about the Playboy article, Wagner said he was aware of the negativity surrounding the interview but had not read it personally.