SAN DIEGO — Navy Secretary Ray Mabus on Wednesday said it was an honor to name the last of 14 Lewis and Clark-class cargo ships after the late farm worker activist Cesar Chavez — pointing out that the vessels recognize American pioneers and visionaries who changed the country and the world for the better.
The decision irked a California Republican congressman, Duncan Hunter, who said it seemed political and that a military war hero should have been picked.
Mabus declined to specifically comment on Hunter's remarks, saying only that Chavez's life of achievements explain why he was chosen.
Mabus also praised the mostly Latino workforce attending Wednesday's ceremony at the San Diego shipyard where the boat is being built, saying "because of what you do, you make our Navy stronger and our America more secure."
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General Dynamics NASSCO officials had suggested the name to the Navy to honor its employees and Barrio Logan, the mostly Latino neighborhood where the ship builder is located on San Diego's waterfront.
More than a dozen U.S. senators, including Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer of California and Harry Reid of Nevada, praised the secretary in a letter for the choice. The other 13 ships were named after notable Americans like civil rights leader Medgar Evers and aviator Amelia Earhart.
"It is clear that Cesar Chavez is a fitting namesake for this fourteenth and final ship," said the letter, which was provided by Boxer's office. "Any comments to the contrary reflect a total disregard for Cesar Chavez, who deserves our respect and gratitude for the lifetime he spent promoting the fair treatment of workers and equal rights and justice for all Americans."
Chavez mobilized tens of thousands of migrant workers, launched nationwide grape boycotts and marched across California to force growers and U.S. lawmakers to recognize the rights of the mostly immigrant laborers. He is credited with pushing through passage of a U.S. law that allowed farm workers to unionize.