Sen. Boxer cheers naming of the USNS Cesar Chavez

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While the idea of naming a U.S. Naval ship after labor leader Cesar Chavez has roiled some, California Democrat Sen. Barbara Boxer is thrilled that the activist will be receiving the honor.

Boxer called Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus Tuesday to thank him for the decision.

“I applaud Secretary Mabus for continuing the Navy’s rich tradition of naming these supply ships after pioneers, explorers and visionaries by honoring César Chávez, who worked tirelessly to promote fair working conditions and equal rights for all Americans,” Boxer said in a statement. “This is a fitting tribute to Chávez, who served in the Navy, and follows the Navy’s recent decisions to name other supply ships after American visionaries from Medgar Evers to Amelia Earhart to Lewis and Clark.”

Republican California Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Marine veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, had a very different opinion. He said that it was indicative of the Navy’s politicization.

“This decision shows the direction the Navy is heading. Naming a ship after Cesar Chavez goes right along with other recent decisions by the Navy that appear to be more about making a political statement than upholding the Navy’s history and tradition,” he said.

According to Hunter, if the Navy is trying to honor the Hispanic community there are people far better suited for that distinction, including Marine Corps Sergeant Rafael Peralta, a Medal of Honor nominee, and World War II Medal of Honor winner John Finn.

Chavez was a labor leader and civil rights activist who co-founded the National Farm Workers Association (which later became the United Farm Workers). He was know for his agressive yet non-violent tactics to organize and demand workers’ rights.

The T-AKE 14 ship to be named is currently under construction at General Dynamics National Steel and Shipbuilding Company in San Diego. It is expected to be ready by late 2012.

Update 6:26 : Boxer Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and 13 other Democratic Senators sent a letter of support to Mabus Wednesday.

“Those who have criticized the Navy’s decision to name this ship after César Chávez show a disappointing lack of knowledge of the standards and traditions that are such an important part of United States Navy history,” the letter reads.

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*This article has been corrected to reflect the proper prefix of USNS.