AUSTIN, Texas — Texas drivers won't be able to put Confederate license plates on their vehicles after a state board unanimously rejected the proposed design Thursday.
The Department of Motor Vehicles board, appointed by Gov. Rick Perry, voted against offering the plates after hearing hours of emotional testimony.
Perry, who is seeking the GOP presidential nomination, has previously defended the historical value of Confederacy symbols but said he opposed the license plates. When asked about the proposal last month, he said "we don't need to be opening old wounds."
"Again, he wasn't in favor of the plates," Perry spokeswoman Lucy Nashed said after Thursday's vote.
The Sons of Confederate Veterans sponsored the plate proposal and plans to file a lawsuit over its rejection. The design featured the group's logo, which is derived from the battle flag flown by southern states during the Civil War.
The group has successfully sued to have the plates issued in three of the nine states where they are currently offered.
"It's very disheartening when people are swayed by emotional issues rather than looking at things historically and correctly," said Michael Givens, Commander in Chief of Sons of Confederate Veterans. "Now, because of their actions, they're going to cause the state of Texas to have to foot the bill for a lawsuit and the taxpayers will have to pay for that and it's completely unnecessary."
Givens said members of the Tennessee-headquartered group reject racism and seek only to honor the events of the Civil War from the southern perspective. The organization's Texas Division hoped to use proceeds from the sale of the license plates for efforts such as erecting monuments to Confederate war heroes.
Dozens of opponents, including three members of Congress, crowded Thursday's board meeting to urge that the plates be rejected.
"The state of Texas should not sanction what's become a symbol of hatred and racism," Democratic state Sen. Rodney Ellis of Houston wrote in a letter read to the board before the vote. "The Confederate battle flag has become a symbol of violence, repression, not heritage."
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 the most objectionable symbol.
"Clearly, a flag that's been adopted by hate groups is not a flag that's about protecting the Southern heritage alone," said Gary Bledsoe, president of the Texas National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
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 more than a decade 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 also 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.