President Ronald Reagan signed a bill declaring the 3rd Monday in January as Martin Luther King Day.
RELUCTANCE TO OBSERVE: President Ronald Reagan opposed the holiday, citing cost concerns. He grudgingly signed the measure only after Congress passed it with an overwhelming veto-proof majority (338 to 90 in the House of Representatives and 78 to 22 in the Senate). Reagan earlier said that he would do so because “Congress seemed bent on making it a national holiday.”
Sen. John McCain (Republican of Arizona) voted against the creation of the holiday to honor King, and later defended Arizona Republican Governor Evan Mecham’s rescission of the state holiday in honor of King created by his Democratic predecessor. After his opposition grew increasingly untenable, McCain reversed his position, and encouraged his home state of Arizona to recognize the holiday despite opposition from Mecham.
Former Governor Bruce Babbitt, a Democrat, created the holiday by executive order just before he left office in 1986, but Mecham, armed with an attorney general’s opinion that Babbitt’s order was illegal, rescinded it days after he took office. Mecham subsequently issued his own executive order, setting aside the third Sunday in January as an unpaid holiday to honor King, but it never was recognized by supporters of a paid holiday. Mecham was impeached and removed from office for unrelated actions in 1988.
In 1989, the Arizona state legislature replaced Columbus Day with the King holiday, outraging Italian-Americans.
Read about more about Dr King’s holiday at: Daily Black History Facts