AUSTIN (AP) – Texas drivers won’t be able to put Confederate license plates on their vehicles after a state board unanimously rejected the proposed design Thursday.
The Department of Motor Vehicles board, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, voted against offering the plates after hearing hours of emotional testimony.
Perry, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, has previously defended the historical value of Confederacy symbols but said he opposed the license plates. When asked about the plates last month, he said “we don’t need to be opening old wounds.”
Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which sponsored the proposal, had threatened to file a lawsuit if Texas rejected the plate design, which features the group logo derived from the battle flag flown by southern states during the Civil War. The group has successfully sued to have them issued in three of the nine states where they are currently offered.
Supporters of the proposal, including Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, said the logo is about honoring all soldiers who fought in the Civil War. Still, dozens of opponents, including three members of Congress, urged the board to reject the plates.
“The state of Texas should not sanction what’s become a symbol of hatred and racism,” Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston wrote in a letter read to the board before the vote. “The Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of violence, repression, not heritage.”
Michael Givens, Commander in Chief of Sons of Confederate Veterans, said members of the Tennessee-headquartered group reject racism and instead seek to honor the events of the Civil War from the southern perspective. The organization’s Texas Division hoped to sell the license plate and use the proceeds for efforts such as erecting monuments to Confederate war heroes.
“Unfortunately your governor has said some words that have been rather hurtful. We’re not the people that caused those wounds,” Givens said ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
The floor of the Texas Capitol’s rotunda still bears the seal of the Confederacy, and statues on the grounds memorialize Robert E. Lee and Confederate soldiers. But civil rights organizations consider the battle flag the most objectionable symbol.
Nine other states have approved similar license plates, but Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina only did so after the Sons of Confederate Veterans filed successful lawsuits, Givens said. A legal battle over a plate for the group in Florida continues.
Perry’s opposition to the plates in Texas is a departure from his ultimately unsuccessful opposition to NAACP-led efforts to remove two plaques with Confederate symbols from the Texas Supreme Court building 11 years ago.
Then-lieutenant governor Perry wrote to the Sons of Confederate Veterans in a March 2000 letter obtained by The Associated Press that, “although this is an emotional issue, I want you to know that I oppose efforts to remove Confederate monuments, plaques, and memorials from public property.”
Texas has approved 276 specialty plates, including a series promoting the American Quarter Horse Association and one celebrating the red grapefruit as the state fruit. It turned down a Sons of Confederate Veterans request for a specialty plate in December 2009, because criteria at the time called for denying plates considered political or controversial in nature.
The criteria has changed since the Department of Motor Vehicles board in its current form was created two years ago. The board has since approved all 89 specialty designs submitted.
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