Debate urged on Starr King statue's eviction from U.S. Capitol

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Former President Ronald Reagan, namesake of an airport, roads, highways, schools, a mountain, a ship and a presidential library, is slated to receive yet another tribute -- to replace Thomas Starr King as one of two notable figures to represent California in Washington's National Statuary Hall.

Established in 1864, the hall at the U.S. Capitol houses statues of 100 influential individuals in American history, with each state contributing two statues. California has been represented for 75 years by Starr King and Father Junipero Serra.

State lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have requested permission from Congress to replace the Starr King statue with Reagan's, but critics say the decision was hasty and failed to honor the legacy of Starr King.

"He was a grand figure in our history," said Glenna Matthews, a scholar who is writing a biography on Starr King. "What we're trying to do now is use the statue controversy as a moment to realize that this man was a significant figure."

Starr King, "the orator who saved the nation," is credited with persuading California lawmakers not to secede from the Union during the Civil War. A Unitarian minister, Starr King was also a top fundraiser for the Sanitary Commission -- a precursor to the Red Cross -- and trustee of the College of California -- now the University of California.

Starr King was one of the first to promote diversity as a positive idea, and he is considered California's first environmentalist.

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