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Ronald Reagan statue unveiled in Washington DC's Capitol building

Bronze Statue of Ronald Reagan
Bronze Statue of Ronald Reagan
Kitty Felde

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It's been five years since the death of Ronald Reagan, five years since his casket lay in state in the Rotunda of the Capitol building. A 30-hour procession of more than 100,000 people paid their respects back then. Now visitors to the Capitol can pay their respects to Reagan again.

KPCC's Washington Correspondent Kitty Felde says a seven-foot statue of the 40th president was unveiled today in the Capitol Rotunda.

Kitty Felde: There are lots of statues in Statuary Hall in the Capitol Building, but every state is allowed to choose only two. California has one for Friar Junipero Serra, the Spanish friar who built missions up and down the state. Republican Congressman Ken Calvert of Riverside thought that second statue ought to honor Ronald Reagan.

Ken Calvert: A good part of my youth was spent volunteering with millions of Americans for President Reagan.

Felde: Calvert says he was a 14-year-old campaign volunteer for Reagan when the actor-turned-politician first ran for governor in 1966. Reagan built a following that revived the Republican Party and won him two terms as president.

Good reasons for a statue in Statuary Hall. The only problem was California already had a second statue. It's of Thomas Starr King – and it was in Statuary Hall for nearly 80 years. Republican Congressman Dan Lungren of Sacramento says not many people know much about King anymore.

Dan Lungren: Thomas Starr King who was a Universal Unitarian minister around the time of the Civil War who probably gave more speeches up and down the state to help keep California a non-slave state, that is with the Union, than anybody else.

Felde: It took a vote in the state legislature to bump King off his pedestal to make room for Ronald Reagan.

Felde: The ceremony featured the U.S. Army Chorus, two chaplains, Reagan's White House Chief of Staff James Baker, and congressional leaders from both parties. The bronze statue was covered in blue cloth, awaiting its unveiling.

It's located just across the way from the statue of another Republican president – Dwight Eisenhower. Ike is depicted not as a politician, but in the way he wanted to be remembered: addressing the troops on D-Day. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told the standing room-only audience the Reagan statue will remind Capitol visitors of the fall of communism – the way the 40th president wanted to be remembered.

Nancy Pelosi: President Reagan and all of us who take the oath of office know that our first responsibility is to protect and defend the American people. And that's why it is so appropriate that President Reagan's statue has contained within it chunks of the Berlin Wall as a symbol of his commitment to national security and his success.

Felde: A frail Nancy Reagan was the last to address the crowd before the unveiling.

Nancy Reagan: The statue is a wonderful likeness of Ronnie and he would be so proud.

Felde: Mrs. Reagan reportedly made sure it was a wonderful likeness – she told sculptor Chas Fagan that her husband looked a little too serious. Oh, and his pants were too long, too. When the drape that covered the statue was removed, Mrs. Reagan seemed pleased. She even reached out a hand to touch one of those pant legs.

Chas Fagan: You know, the last time that I was in this room was for Ronnie's service. So it's nice to be back under happier circumstances.

Felde: Not so happy for Thomas Starr King fans. But although his statue's been deposed in D.C., the minister who made sure slavery would never touch California won't pass from view. Later this month, the Thomas Starr King statue will be unveiled in the second floor rotunda of another capitol building – this one in Sacramento.