An unofficial symbol of the Tea Party as well as logos of South Carolinas 200-plus public and independent high schools would be able to be put on S.C. customized vehicle license tags under a bill likely to be passed later this month when the General Assembly goes back into session.
A Tea Party emblem a coiled rattlesnake with the message Dont Tread on Me would give that fledgling movement of anti-government, anti-tax activists a highly visible perch on perhaps thousands of S.C. vehicles that more established political parties dont have.
Neither the Democratic nor Republican parties have their own symbols a donkey and an elephant, respectively on state vehicle license tags.
S.C. Republican Party chairman Chad Connelly said the idea of putting an elephant or other Republican symbol on S.C. license tags is something he will explore with the partys executive committee, composed of party leaders from across the state. He said he had no objection to a Tea Party symbol on a state license plate.
People use those things as things that they stand for and believe strongly in, Connelly said.
S.C. Democratic Party chairman Dick Harpootlian ridiculed lawmakers for wasting taxpayers money by coming up with an idea that would politicize the states millions of license plates.
I hope every time citizens see one of these yellow snakes on a license plate, they think of how the Legislature wasted taxpayers time and money while neglecting major problems this state has, Harpootlian said.
A state Department of Motor Vehicles spokeswoman said if the Legislature passes a law that allows Democratic and Republican license plates, the DMV will issue the plates. We follow the law. If the law requires us to produce a plate, we produce the plate, said the DMVs Beth Parks.
Under a provision in the proposed license-plate law, any money raised by the sale of snake license plates beyond the cost to produce the plates would go to the State Museum in Columbia to be used for Revolutionary War exhibits.
However, a spokesman for the State Museum said Wednesday its officials didnt know anything about the snake plate or that the money generated by its sale would have to be spent only on Revolutionary War programs and exhibits.
The State newspaper on Wednesday could not learn which of the General Assemblys 170 members inserted the provision for the Tea Party symbol into the license-plate bill. The bill doesnt contain the words Tea Party instead, it calls the logo the Gadsden flag.
The yellow snake and the words Dont Tread on Me harken to the American Revolution, when colonists revolting against Great Britain used that logo on a yellow flag. A South Carolinian, Christopher Gadsden, is credited with being among those promoting that flag during that war.
In recent years, the Tea Party a loose collection of activists who want to drastically cut government spending and do away with many regulations has used the snake and the Dont Tread on Me on flags and banners at rallies across the state and nation. The yellow snake flag is sold on Tea Party Internet sites.
Rep. Todd Rutherford, D-Richland, who served on the legislative conference committee that is proposing some 25 types of new license plates, including the Tea Party plate, said he had not originally connected the Tea Party to the snake license plate.
I would like to know who proposed this, Rutherford said. If it is someone connected to the Tea Party, that is really hypocritical of them to use a government program to get their political message out in front of people on license plates.
The Tea Party plate is just one of some two dozen categories of new plates the bill would authorize. The bill might be taken up as early as June 19, when the Legislature goes back into session.
The largest category of new license plates would be one that allows supporters of the states 200-plus public and independent high schools to get customized license plates for their schools.
If all 200-plus high schools eventually get their own license tags, that would more than double the 140 or so plates now authorized for sale to the motoring public. Some 38 colleges and universities including The Citadel, Furman, West Point, the University of Florida, Clemson and the University of South Carolina now have their own license plates.
In general, any group wanting any customized license tag under the new law must pay the DMV $6,800, up from the previous $4,000. That covers the increasing expenses of producing a tag. Then, any individuals wanting to buy the new tag have to pay an additional fee.
The cost varies with the tag. For example, a person wanting to buy a high school license tag would pay $70. A person wanting a yellow snake tag would pay $20.
Before being issued, any new license tag would be reviewed by DMV and law enforcement officials for appropriateness and to make sure police can see the numbers on the tag.
Other license tags the bill would authorize include: I Support Libraries, the 2nd Amendment supporting gun laws, beach music and largemouth-bass fishing.
In general, money raised by the sale of a customized plate goes to the organization or related activity it promotes, unless otherwise specified by law, as with the snake plate. Money from the 2nd Amendment tags would go the S.C. Criminal Justice Academy.
High school tag money would go to support scholarships at the individual schools.
The tags that say In God We Trust, by far the states most frequently ordered tags, cost the same as normal tags.
Top-selling S.C. specialty vehicle license plates
1. In God We Trust 433,995
2. Personalized plate 44,390
3. USC 10,406
4. Clemson University 8,063
5. National Guard 6,593
6. Antique vehicle 6,047
7. Public education (an apple) 6,005
8. Endangered species 4,784
9. Vietnam veteran 4,481
10. Disabled veteran 3,745
Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.