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Navajo Nation wants highway renamed after late NM senator, WWII code talker

Democratic New Mexico state Sen. John Pinto, shown here on Feb. 2, 2018, was a long-serving New Mexico senator, former Marine and WWII code talker. He died in May at 94.

MORGAN LEE/AP

By ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: August 14, 2019

FARMINGTON, N.M. — Some Navajo Nation officials want New Mexico to rename a U.S. highway after one of the longest-serving Native American lawmakers in U.S. history.

A Navajo legislative committee is requesting New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham name U.S. Highway 491 in honor of the late state Sen. John Pinto, the Farmington Daily Times reports .

Pinto, who died in May at 94, had long sought to turn the deadly U.S. 666 into a four-lane highway and to change its name to U.S. 491.

The road was nicknamed the "Devil's Highway" because of the significance of number 666 has for many Christian evangelicals and because it was the site of a number of deadly traffic fatalities. The highway is featured in such movies like "Natural Born Killers" and "Repo Man."

The highway was named one of the 20 most dangerous in the country in 1997.

Pinto was among the state legislators and Navajo leaders who got the highway changed to U.S. 491.

"He had a strong passion for that highway," said Delegate Mark Freeland, who is sponsoring the bill in the Navajo Nation Tribal Council.

Such a designation will honor and memorialize Pinto's legacy, Freeland said.

"It'll be an ultimate tribute to him. I hope the state gives it some consideration," he said.

U.S. Highway 491 stretches about 195 miles from Gallup, New Mexico, through Colorado to Monticello, Utah.

Pinto was a Marine and World War II Navajo code talker. He was elected to the Senate in 1976 and represented a district that includes the Navajo Nation for more than four decades.

The region is one of the poorest in the country.and served over four decades in the state Legislature.

Lujan Grisham's office on Thursday stopped short of endorsing the proposal on the highway but signaled the governor would be open to the discussion.

"The governor certainly recognizes the need to appropriately honor a singular public servant and statesman like Sen. Pinto and will always be open to exploring ways to do that," said spokesman Tripp Stelnicki.

Marisa Maez, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico Department of Transportation, said any renaming of the highway would involve a formal request and a formal proposal written up by the department. It would be then have to be presented to a state commission and approved by the Navajo Council.

Information from: The Daily Times, http://www.daily-times.com

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