Rush Limbaugh, the late lightning-rod radio host whose success spawned many imitators of his slashing style, would be honored with a road and a day under two bills sponsored by a lawmaker who represents his hometown.
A six-mile stretch of Interstate 55 in Cape Girardeau would become the Rush Limbaugh Memorial Highway. And his birthday, Jan. 12, would be celebrated each year as Rush Limbaugh Day. State Sen. Holly Rehder, R-Sikeston, promoted the bills Tuesday in public hearings in two Senate committees.
The bill creating a day to honor Limbaugh does not create a new state holiday. Schools, government offices and banks would remain open. It does, however, encourage participation “in appropriate events and activities to remember the life of the famous Missourian and groundbreaking radio host.”
In her presentations, Rehder said the first time she heard Limbaugh on the radio she was offended and had a fight with her husband over what he said.
“The first time my husband slept on the couch, it was an argument over the Rush Limbaugh Show,” Rehder said.
Limbaugh was an acquired taste, she said.
“I agreed with him, but I sure didn’t like the way he went about it,” Rehder said.
No votes were taken on either bill on Tuesday. If either is approved in committee, the bill would have to be passed in both the Senate and the House by the time the legislative session adjourns for the year on May 14.
Limbaugh was born Rush H. Limbaugh III in 1951 in Cape Girardeau to a family that had statewide prominence because of the top legal minds in the family.
His grandfather, Rush Limbaugh Sr., authored the Nonpartisan Court Plan that governs selection of Missouri appellate judges, and the federal courthouse in Cape Girardeau is named after him.
The younger Limbaugh got his first job in radio at age 20, and then worked a number of years as a disc jockey, commentator and, for a time, group sales director for the Kansas City Royals. He launched the radio show that brought him fame and wealth in 1988, about one year after President Ronald Reagan’s administration repealed the Fairness Doctrine requiring broadcasters to present opposing views when shows covered political topics.
“Rush Limbaugh forever changed the political landscape and talk radio,” Rehder said.
Limbaugh made incendiary attacks on his opponents a hallmark of his show. He called feminists “feminazis,” said “all composite pictures of criminal suspects look like Jesse Jackson” and, in 2012, Limbaugh called a Georgetown University law student a “slut” and a “prostitute” because she favored no-cost contraception coverage in health insurance plans.
Despite anger over his statements, Limbaugh’s popularity remained high and his audience was the biggest in talk radio. The same year he attacked the Georgetown law student, then-House Speaker Steve Tilley selected Limbaugh for the Hall of Famous Missourians and a bust of the radio host is just outside the House chamber in the Capitol Building.
During the Senate General Laws Committee meeting, state Sen. Lauren Arthur, D-Kansas City, said she had compiled a list of Limbaugh’s insults and attacks and didn’t think that he deserved a day of honor.
“I don’t know what message it sends to everyone who lives in this state that we are honoring someone who at times used pretty hateful rhetoric,” Arthur said.
Rehder said that beyond his radio show, Limbaugh dealt publicly with addiction and was generous to his hometown.
“All humans are flawed so anyone we would pick to commemorate in this way would have their detractors,” Rehder said.
Sen. Eric Burlison, R-Springfield, agreed and said the sum of someone’s life and impact, not one portion of it, should be the measure of whether they should be honored.
“We have entire counties named after some of the most racist individuals on the planet,” Burlison said, noting that Jackson County is named after President Andrew Jackson.
During the removal of Native Americans from their ancestral homes in the southeast United States, Jackson “death-marched thousands of people because of their race.”
Limbaugh deserves a day in his honor, Burlison said.
Limbaugh “may not have been perfect in every word he said,” Burlison noted, adding “there is no doubt the impact he had.”