April 2001 Rant
You've probably read or heard about the Confederate flag plate controversy. Here's a side to the story you may not have heard.
The plate took a couple of tries to finally get past the General Assembly. When it did pass, the Assembly stipulated that the plate could not have the Confederate battle flag, the stars and bars, on the plate. Usually the Assembly and DMV do not design plates but in this case the members of the Assembly decided that including the flag on the plate might have offended some people. The organization that sought the plate, Sons of Confederate Veterans, didn't want a plate without the flag. They received help from an organization in Charlottesville called the Rutherford Institute. This institute provides free legal aid to individuals and organizations in matters that involve rights issues such as school prayer, religious freedom, sexual harassment, discrimination against homosexuals, etc. This same organization helped Paula Jones for a while with her suit against President Clinton. The case ended up in Federal court where the Sons of Confederate Veterans won. This decision didn't surprise anyone since a similar court battle in Maryland was decided the same way earlier. "Sons" in Maryland and other states can purchase a plate with the flag on it.
That should have been the end of the story. However the Virginia Attorney General, Mark Earley, decided to appeal the decision of the Federal court to a higher court. This means that taxpayer money will be used to try to stop the state from making a state license plate with a Confederate flag on it. Apparently AG Earley thinks the plate is all right if it doesn't have the flag on it but he is willing to spend state tax dollars to stop the production of a plate with the stars and bars. Recognizing that this is a losing battle is state Delegate Robinson, who is Black. Robinson stated publicly that the state should quit the legal battle to stop the plate and that state money is just being wasted in this fight that can't be won.
Why is Earley even fighting a battle that he must know can't be won? Why waste state tax money when the state had so much trouble recently balancing the budget and keeping the no car tax pledge? May be the reason has something to do with the governor's race next year. The Democrats have pretty much settled on Mark Warner as their choice but the Republicans have two front-runners. They are Lieutenant Governor John Hager and as Gomer Pyle used to say Surprise, Surprise…it's Attorney General Mark Earley. Both are fighting hard for their party's nomination. The nomination may even come down to just a few votes. Do you think that Earley is fighting a losing battle and spending thousands of taxpayer dollars just to move his personal political agenda forward? Would anyone be so arrogant as to abuse their power by continuing this legal battle just because it may win them a few votes? Is there really any other reason to continue spending money on a losing case?
How did we get into this license plate mess? All these special plates came about to generate more income for the state so that members of the legislature would have more money to spend. Politicians love to spend money. We now have plates that cost, in addition to the usual yearly registration fee, from a one time $10 fee to a yearly $10 to $25 extra. The Assembly should have stopped with people buying plates such as "NO1DAD" or "JOSMOM" but that wouldn't have raised enough money. So now any person or group that can get 350 copies of a plate purchased in a three-year period can pretty much have the plate they desire. Greed like this always opens the door to the opportunity for abuse. The Confederate flag plate is not the first plate to offend people. The "Choose Life" plate that was a symbol against abortion rights also stirred up a stink in the Assembly. Wisely the members of the Assembly did not pass the bill that would have created that plate. This brings up the question as to why the Assembly chose not to kill the flag plate. Perhaps they knew a legal battle would ensue regardless of what they did or perhaps they lacked the intestinal fortitude to just say no to the plate.
How do I feel about all those special plates? I prefer an earlier time back in the 50's and 60's when people simply placed stickers on huge chrome bumpers. I think that's a better way to let the world know you're some kind of kook. Another plus with bumper stickers is that eventually they fade and fall apart. Special license plates are going to be around as long as politicians need to generate revenue. In other words expect more battles over special plates.