Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Hate Groups Petition to Stop SCV Plate In Texas

Groups opposing Confederate license plates present petitions to DMV board Haraz N. Ghanbari/ ASSOCIATED PRESS

Opponents of a proposed Confederate flag license plate in Texas presented petitions containing 22,000 signatures Wednesday to a state board that could vote on the politically charged issue as soon as next month.

The petitions were presented by representatives of the state chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the self-styled progressive organization Progress Texas, who urged the state Department of Motor Vehicles' governing board not to approve a vanity plate that contains the Confederate battle flag.

The plate has been proposed by the Sons of Confederate Veterans, an ancestral history group involved in previous dust-ups over displays of the flag in state buildings and on state monuments.

A vote on the plate could come next month after one in April ended in a 4-4 tie, officials said.

Such a vote could pose a new political problem for Gov. Rick Perry, who is running for the GOP presidential nomination, because all the board members are his appointees.

Perry has faced criticism recently over a sign at a hunting camp that his family once leased that contained an offensive racial slur. Perry said his family had the sign, which was painted on a rock marking a camp entrance, painted over.

"This particular flag never flew over Texas; it has been adopted by hate groups to intimidate or do wrong against people" of color, Gary Bledsoe, president of the state NAACP conference, told the board. "It is every bit as offensive as the swastika. It creates psychological harm, creates fear and intimidation, and is likely to lead to breaches of the peace. It is a fighting flag."

Echoed Yannis Banks, the NAACP's legislative liaison: "It represents slavery, hate and injustice to African Americans. It looks like the state is supporting what is behind that flag."

Supporters of the plate say it would honor their ancestors on the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Texas was a Confederate state.

To reject the plate, the supporters have said, would infringe on their First Amendment right to free speech.

The national Sons of Confederate Veterans' group already has offered Confederate-

inspired tags in nine other states: Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia . Proposals are pending in Florida and Kentucky, along with Texas.

Citing opposition from legislative leaders in both parties — including U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee, D-Houston, and state Sens. Rodney Ellis, D-Houston, Royce West, D-Dallas, and John Carona, R-Dallas — Bledsoe asked the board on Wednesday not to bring the proposed plate up for another vote.

Board members had no comment, and the board's newest member, El Paso car dealer Raymond Palacios Jr., didn't indicate how he might vote.

Despite the possible vote next month, both sides acknowledge that the issue could end up in court, as it has in other states. Sons of Confederate Veterans members, who use revenue from the specialty plates for historic preservation projects, have won those cases, according to officials with the organization.

Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, a member of the veterans group who is sponsoring the proposal for the plate, said the plate is "probably too hot to be approved at this time. It's presidential politics, political correctness run amok."

Ironically, he said, the agency will likely approve a vanity plate, one he is also sponsoring, to honor Buffalo Soldiers, black U.S. soldiers who were used in some campaigns against Indian tribes after the Civil War. "In the spirit of political correctness, why is it OK to honor soldiers who were sent to war against Native Americans and not Confederate soldiers who were fighting for their country?"