But opposition to the plate comes swiftly.
By ANNE LINDBERG, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2007

For some, the Confederate battle flag is a symbol of the country’s racist past, of a viewpoint best forgotten.

But a group who cherishes the old flag as a point of Southern pride is working to do just the opposite.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans want to immortalize the flag on a Florida speciality license plate.

The group’s leaders say they have collected 30,000 signatures from people who would buy the plate. They’ve also raised the $60,000 deposit needed to put the proposal before the state Legislature.

Getting it approved this year would be especially appropriate, they say, because it is the 200th anniversary of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s birthday.

The group knows the plate will evoke some bad feelings, said Robert Hurst, the public relations director for the Florida division of the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

“There are people in this society, who, every time you mention Confederate, will complain,” Hurst said. “We know that there will be opposition and gnashing of teeth and thumping of chests when we get our tags.”

The group’s goal, he said, is to honor “our ancestors, to maintain our presence and raise some money for our division.”

Despite the controversy, Hurst said he does not believe the Sons of Confederate Veterans will have any trouble getting legislative approval.

It would be “bad faith,” he said, for the Legislature to refuse it after approving 100 other speciality plates. State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, disagreed, saying the Legislature is “too sophisticated” to permit such a specialty tag.

“I don’t think they’d fall into the trap of passing legislation that raises the spectre of racism,” Joyner said. “It’s a very sensitive issue in this state and this country. It’s very polarizing and we don’t need that today.”

Funds for graveyards

Last month, Hillsborough County commissioners ran into criticism after issuing a proclamation recognizing the bicentennial birthday of Lee on the same day they honored a longtime a black community activist.

The license plate is not meant to polarize, said Doug Guetzloe, the head of Advantage Consultants in Winter Park who is helping usher the plate through the Legislature.

To begin with, the $25 per plate fee that would go to the Sons of Confederate Veterans would be used to maintain graveyards of men on both sides of the conflict. Another portion would go to education.

The goal is to celebrate the state’s “Confederate heritage,” not to insult people by displaying the battle flag.

“The design actually minimizes the Confederate battle flag,” Guetzloe said. “It’s a very tastefully done representation of the Confederate flags that flew over Florida.”

The proposed plate shows four flags surrounding a center emblem of the battle flag. Two of the flags are the battle flag.

Warning of message

The group’s good intentions do not matter, Joyner said. Nor does the plate’s appearance.

“You can dress it up and say it’s for this purpose, but it still has the concept of … racism,” Joyner said. “It’s the message we send to the nation that racism is alive and well in Florida.”

If people want to display the Confederate battle flag, they can do so without a state-sponsored tag, she said. Confederate plates can be placed on the front of the vehicle.

Meanwhile, the group is shopping for a lawmaker to sponsor the plate.

Several legislators have been consulted, but none have signed on, Guetzloe said.

However, he was confident that someone would be named in the next few days.

© 2007 • All Rights Reserved • St. Petersburg Times

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