Navy ship-naming by Secretary mired in controversy

The USS Medgar Evers? The USS John Murtha? The USS Cesar Chavez?

Our Navy Secretary, Ray Mabus, has this diversity thing down cold. Each one of those ships was in a class that previous names of their sister ships had nothing to do with civil rights, or corrupt Democratic politicians. Ships are usually named after states, cities, even famous explorers and war heroes.

But Mabus has injected partisanship into this tradition, naming another ship for Democrat Gabriel Giffords, who has shown courage in her recovery from an assassination attempt but had expressed little interest in the military during her career on Capitol Hill.

But she was a Democrat, which seemed to fulfill the criteria Mabus has set.

Now it appears that, stung by criticism from Republicans over his choice of ship names, Mabus is going back to more "traditional" naming criteria.

The Washington Times:

Asked whether this was a response to criticism, the official said: "It isn't. I think if you look at these five additional ships, I think you'll see examples that are very traditional." The official said three ships would be named after highly decorated Navy or Marine Corps personnel.

Mr. Mabus, a former Mississippi governor, broke with Navy conventions in the past three years when he named an amphibious ship, two cargo ships and a littoral combat ship after two social activists and two fellow Democrats.

"The Navy's ship-naming process remains the subject of criticism based on several recent decisions," Rep. Duncan Hunter, California Republican, wrote to Mr. Mabus on Tuesday. He said there are still opportunities "for the Navy to show its intent to uphold the integrity and tradition of this process."

Mr. Hunter, who fought in Afghanistan and Iraq as a Marine Corps officer, renewed his recommendation that the Navy name a ship after a war hero, the late Marine Sgt. Rafael Peralta.

Sgt. Peralta received the Navy Cross for valor in smothering the blast of a grenade with his body during a 2004 raid in Fallujah, Iraq. Congress' 2012 budget bill urged the Navy to name a ship after him.

For years, Congress has taken a keen interest in ship-naming, an honor that travels in deployments around the world and sometimes into battle. The power to name ships resides solely with the Navy secretary.

There is nothing inherently wrong with naming a ship after civil rights leaders - except there is no tradition for it and, in the case of Mr. Chavez, he genuinely hated serving in the military, his biographer quoting him as calling it the worst time of his life. Mr. Evers served in the army in World War II.

This is so transparently partisan that it's no wonder congress is demanding an explanation - and a change in the naming criteria.

Hat Tip: Ed Lasky