AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A Texas board was set to decide Thursday whether the state will issue specialty license plates featuring the Confederate battle flag, a plan Gov. Rick Perry has said he opposes but will not block.
All nine members of the Department of Motor Vehicles board were appointed by the Republican governor, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination and has previously defended the historical value of Confederacy symbols. But when asked about the proposed plates last month, Perry said "we don't need to be opening old wounds."
The Sons of Confederate Veterans is sponsoring the proposed plates and has successfully sued to have them issued in three other states. Members have threatened to file another lawsuit if Texas rejects the plate design featuring the group's logo, which is derived from the battle flag flown by southern states during the Civil War.
"Unfortunately your governor has said some words that have been rather hurtful. We're not the people that caused those wounds," said Michael Givens, Commander in Chief of Sons of Confederate Veterans, whose national headquarters is in Tennessee.
Givens said the 31,000-member group rejects racism and instead seeks to honor the events of the Civil War from the southern perspective. The organization's Texas Division hopes to sell the license plate and use the proceeds for efforts such as erecting monuments to Confederate war heroes.
"They should be looking at our plate just like any other plate that's been through there," Granvel Block, the group's Texas division commander, said of the motor vehicles board.
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 a racist relic.
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.