Texas officials reject Confederate license plate
Texas officials on Thursday unanimously rejected a proposal for specialty license plates featuring the Confederate flag.
The nine-member Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board, all appointees of Gov. Rick Perry, voted at its regular meeting in Austin against offering the plates after hearing hours of testimony opposing the plates.
The board had deadlocked on the issue 4-4 earlier this year when one member was absent. After a member who voted in favor of the plates died in June, a second vote was postponed until Perry appointed a replacement.
Perry, who is campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, has defended Confederate symbols in the past, but last month said he opposed the license plates, in part because, "we don't need to be opening old wounds."
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, a 30,000-member group based in Columbia, Tenn., had sponsored the license plate proposal and threatened to sue if the board rejected it. The group has successfully sued to have similar plates issued in three of the nine states where they are available: Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina. They are still fighting in Florida to force the state to issue the plates.
Supporters have said the design, which features the Confederate flag as part of the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo, honors veterans. The group's Texas division had hoped to use proceeds from plate sales, a portion of which return to the sponsoring group, to educate the public about Civil War history.
Opponents called the flag a symbol of bigotry the state should not endorse. The NAACP gathered more than 22,000 petition signatures and a letter from at least 19 state legislators opposing the plates.
"The state of Texas should not sanction what's become a symbol of hatred and racism," state Sen. Rodney Ellis, a Houston Democrat, wrote in a letter read to the board before the vote. "The Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of violence, repression, not heritage."
Ellis and U.S. Rep Sheila Jackson Lee, also a Houston Democrat who opposed the plate proposal, held a press conference after the board meeting to praise their actions.
"I am pleased the board acknowledged that the Confederate battle flag is unworthy of the state's honor," Ellis said in a statement released after the vote. "The battle flag has become a symbol of repression and violence, not heritage. It provokes feelings of fear and intimidation amongst far too many Texans, and the board was right to deny it official approval."
Marshall Davis, a spokesman for the Texas division of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said the group was "disappointed that the board chose not to support our heritage plates," and that, "Perry and his bid for the White House unofficially had influence on this issue."
Perry's office did not immediately comment on the vote.
Davis said his group's leaders were considering their next move Thursday.
"We will ultimately get these plates on our cars," he said.
He said the controversy was reminiscent of 2000, when then-Gov. George W. Bush drew attention during his presidential campaign for resisting NAACP efforts to remove Confederate plaques from the state Supreme Court building in the capital, a position Perry supported. Bush later changed his mind and authorized replacing the plaques with new ones honoring equal justice for all Texans “regardless of race, creed or color.”
Texas officials had previously turned down a Sons of Confederate Veterans request for a specialty plate three years ago, citing rules that banned political or controversial plates. The rules changed two years ago, and the board has since approved all 89 proposed specialty designs, including a Buffalo Soldiers plate approved Thursday by a 5-3 vote. The Buffalo Soldiers were the first peacetime all-black regiments of the U.S. Army, known for fighting the Indian Wars of the 1800s against Native Americans on the frontier.
Davis said it was unfair for the board to reject his group's logo and approve the Buffalo Soldiers design.
"Both plates honor the veteran, not the cause," Davis said.
-- Molly Hennessy-Fiske in Houston
Photos: The Texas Department of Motor Vehicles board unanimously rejected a proposed specialty license plate featuring a logo of the Sons of Confederate Veterans (right); it approved a Buffalo Soldiers plate (left). Credit: Texas Department of Motor Vehicles