WASHINGTON -- In the wake of the Charleston shooting, the country has been reexamining why it still pays tribute to America's history of slavery. Confederate flags are coming down, schools are reconsidering whether Confederate-themed mascots are still appropriate and the nine states that allow Confederate license plates are looking at whether they should change their policies.
Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia all offer specialty license plates that feature the flag. The Huffington Post contacted the congressional delegations from these states to weigh in on allowing the plates. Although many expressed support for no longer offering these license plates, almost every respondent said it was up to state officials to make the final decision.
Virginia is already moving to get rid of the plates. On Tuesday, Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said the state would begin phasing them out. Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Tuesday that he supported the governor's decision.
“The use of the flag is just [interconnected] with the sort of celebration of the lost cause of the Confederacy and that is completely antithetical to American values," he said.
Echoing McAuliffe’s sentiments, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R), North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) and Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) voiced their support for getting rid of the plates. Meanwhile, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal (R) said he thinks his state’s Confederate plates ought to be redesigned.
Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.), Thom Tillis (R-N.C.), and Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.) all told HuffPost that they have never seen a Confederate license plate in their respective states. Mikulski didn't even realize at first that Maryland allowed them, but later she said she fully supports no longer offering the plates.
Tillis and Sessions, however, both said states should decide on the matter, while Mikulski’s colleague in the House, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, agreed with his state's senior senator.
"I believe the Confederate flag should be removed from Maryland-issued license plates," he said. "The flag is a symbol of hate and divisiveness and it doesn’t reflect the values of our state.”
Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) was ardent that states should tackle the issue.
“We have a state legislature, we have a governor, and so forth. But to a lot of people -- a lot of the history of the South has been mischaracterized. A lot of it's been misused,” he said.
Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.) also said the decision should be handled by the states. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said he supports removing the plates, but that the matter is for his home state to decide.
“The flag to fly and to put on license plates is the American flag, because it is a symbol that this is one country, and that we are all Americans. The state should carefully consider where and how to appropriately display other chapters in our history,” Alexander said in an email.
Alexander’s junior colleague, Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), released a similar statement, saying he also supports the state removing a bust of Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest from the Tennessee state Capitol.
“These are state issues, but if I were in the legislature, I certainly would vote to remove the bust and discontinue the specialty license plate,” Corker said in an email.
Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) argued that it wasn't even the time to discuss the matter.
"Now is the time to allow the families to grieve the tragic loss of life, due to this act of evil," said Loudermilk, referring to the shooting in Charleston. "There will be time to discuss politics once the families and the nation have a time to heal.”
Not a single lawmaker from Mississippi responded to a request for comment about the license plate design. However, Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) released a statement calling on the state legislature to take the Confederate banner out of the Mississippi state flag.
In the House, North Carolina took a bipartisan stance against the plates. Democratic Rep. David Price tweeted his support of McCrory’s call to remove the Confederate symbol, while Republican Rep. David Pittenger cited his Christianity as the reason he opposes the flag during an impassioned floor statement.
All of this comes after the Supreme Court recently paved the way for states to get rid of their Confederate license plates. In the decision, the court differentiated between free speech and government speech, arguing that license plates fall under the latter.
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