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Houston Lawmakers Rally Against Confederate License Plate Proposal

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If the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles votes to approve a proposal next month, some Texas license plates could look something like this. (credit: Wayne Scarberry/Getty Images)

If the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles votes to approve a proposal next month, some Texas license plates could look something like this. (credit: Wayne Scarberry/Getty Images)

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HOUSTON (CBS Houston) – Drivers may be seeing a symbol of the South’s past on a daily basis, but Houston area leaders are standing up against bringing the Confederate flag to Texas license plates.

With the Texas Department of Vehicles scheduled to vote on a Confederate flag license plate proposal sponsored by the Sons of Confederate Veterans next month, a group of Houston legislators are fighting to make sure the proposal is voted down. The DMV’s vote, which will happen Nov. 10, will see whether the plate design will make its way to Texas, the 10th state the plate would have been approved in, according to KHOU in Houston.

Some leaders, however, are adamantly opposed to the plate, citing that it brings about memories of fear and intimidation, which they believe isn’t the message the state should be sending. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Houston) has called on Texas Gov. Rick Perry to denounce the design and end the proposal. The proposal is heading to a second vote next month after there was a tie on the first vote in April.

“License plates are designed to promote tourism and commerce, to create positive identity and awareness, and to showcase those riches that make our state unique,” Jackson Lee said in a statement. “The Confederate flag, long recognized in our generation as a symbol of slavery, racism, and defeat, accomplishes none of those purposes. Those wishing to study the historical significance of this flag and our Confederate past should instead turn to a book.”

But the Sons of Confederate Veterans aren’t going quietly either. Member Johnny Pat Baughman told CBS Houston that the tactic to try to deny the license plate design is one built on lies and racially-charged politics, something that is not a part of the group’s agenda.

“The issue is not even the license plate,” he said. “The issue is a lack of historical understanding by a number of people, people who have an ax to grind which benefits them. It benefits some people to use the southern historical reference in a negative way.”

He added: “They can always say, ‘These people are devils,’ and it benefits them politically to demonize southern people.”

The license plate debate is the latest event that has examined if keeping a depiction of the Confederate flag in current culture is the appropriate thing to do. In 2000,South Carolina removed the Confederate flag from flying over its statehouse. Whatever way the flag issue gets brought up, the flag tends to be a lightning rod of discussion for political leaders and constituents alike, something Jackson Lee hopes to avoid by dumping the proposal.

“Texas does not need to go down that road,” she said.

The group, which amounts to about 30,000 members nationwide, has 2,500 members in Texas, Baughman said. Whether the plate design, which is being presented to the DMV by Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson, is passed, the issue is unlikely to go away.

The Sons of Confederate Veterans hope for a dialogue that is not a “knee-jerk reaction” automatically associated with racism, he said.

“These Confederate license plates, they haven’t done any damage anywhere,” Baughman said. “Nobody can point to anything they’ve caused, other than people pointing to them and screaming.”

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