WASHINGTON — The late founder of the United Farm Workers of America will land monumental recognition next week when President Barack Obama travels to the Southern San Joaquin Valley to formally establish the César E. Chávez National Monument.
In his first presidential visit to the valley, Obama will designate Chávez's former Tehachapi Mountains headquarters in Keene as protected under the 1906 Antiquities Act.
The remote property known as Nuestra Señora Reina de la Paz, or Our Lady Queen of Peace, served as the national headquarters of the UFW from the early 1970s until Chávez's death in 1993.
"La Paz was at the center of some of the most significant civil rights moments in our nation's history, and by designating it a national monument, Chávez's legacy will be preserved and shared to inspire generations to come," Obama said in a statement.
The president's decision won praise from those who have sought to honor Chávez since his death. César Chávez Day is commemorated in California and Texas, and earlier this year, the Labor Department renamed one of its auditoriums after him.
Last year, the Obama administration added the Keene property to the National Register of Historic Places.
"This new national monument will serve as a lasting tribute not only to César Chávez, but to the millions of hard-working men and women he fought for, who have contributed so much to our country," Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer said in a statement.
The timing of Obama's announcement was a surprise, but the decision was politically explicable.
Now in a tight race with Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney, Obama is certain to win California but still os angling to motivate Latino voters nationwide. Latino voters favor Obama over Romney by a two-to-one margin nationwide, according to a Fox News Latino poll in September.
There also is a tradition of presidents declaring national monuments in election years. Sometimes, they invite blow-back.
In April 2000, while Vice President Al Gore was running for the White House, then-President Bill Clinton established the Giant Sequoia National Monument in the southern Sierra Nevada. The monument now spans some 353,000 acres.
Clinton's action excited environmentalists but alarmed local loggers and officials, who feared local jobs would be lost. Several lawmakers subsequently introduced bills designed to slow presidential designation of national monuments.
One bill introduced last year, sponsored in part by Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, would require Congress to approve presidential designations of new national monuments within two years of White House action. The bill's co-sponsors include House Majority Whip Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, whose congressional district includes the proposed Chávez monument.
The new César E. Chávez National Monument is the fourth established by Obama; others include the Fort Ord National Monument on the Monterey coast, a region near and dear to the hear of Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, who formerly represented the area in Congress.