Although Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been a national holiday for almost 30 years, there were some who did not accept its importance. Although the bill had majority support in both the House and Senate, there were plenty of politicians who voted against it.
Both the House of Representatives and the Senate voted on the measure to create a national holiday to honor King in 1983. The final House vote was 338-90, while the Senate voted 78-22. Then-President Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law, silencing the senators who voted against the measure.
Several senators who voted against the creation of Martin Luther King Jr. Day remain in office today. Among them is new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (Rep-LA), who voted against the national holiday in both 1999 and 2004. When a speech he made to a white supremacist group in 2002 surfaced recently, the past votes against MLK Day returned to haunt him, and many Americans assumed that race was the factor behind his decision to vote against the holiday.
While King’s race may have played a part in some of the votes cast against the holiday, other senators did so for other reasons. During the 1983 vote, Senator John McCain (Rep-AZ) thought the addition of another national holiday was too expensive and unnecessary. During a speech McCain gave in 2008, he acknowledged that he had made a mistake, saying “I eventually realized that in time to give full support for a state holiday in Arizona.”
Senator Orrin Hatch (Rep-UT) also voted against the creation of a national holiday to honor King. Looking back, he realized that his “no” vote was one of the worst decisions he had made as a senator. He explained that when casting his vote, he thought that King was a great leader, but did not think taxpayers should pay $1 billion in time off each year in order to honor him above other great people in history.
Hatch later admitted that he “had failed to realize that this holiday was more than just celebrating the life of one man. Dr. King represented the courage, conviction and dedication of millions throughout America.” Hatch was not the only American who thought so, which is why, even though some voted against it, Martin Luther King Jr. Day is a national holiday today.
Written by Donald Daniel