Color, not words, spark license plate reaction

Part of the wall of specialty license plate examples Clay County Tax Assessor Paige Lamkin has on the wall in her office.
Staff Writer

Negative reaction to Mississippi’s new license plate has meant more attention to the state’s 223 specialty license plates for cars, trucks and motorcycles.

And it’s not because a humanist group has threatened to sue the state over the words “In God We Trust” on the plate in the state’s seal.

“People just don’t like it, they think it looks dirty,” Clay County Tax Assessor Paige Lamkin said of the public’s comments. “We haven’t had anyone worried about the wording, they are only worried about the way it looks.”

Lamkin said the distaste for the new design, the first in five years, has driven more customers to specialty plates with many standing and staring at a wall of examples in her office to make a selection.

“It happens pretty regularly. They are willing to pay the extra money for the specialty plate because they like it better or they can support a cause,” Lamkin continued. “And some people like for the tag to match their car. This one is hard to match and the specialty plates do.”

Mississippi charges anywhere from $31 to $53 for most of the specialty plates with the organizations getting a share of the money from the sales. And they cover a wide range of causes, from high schools like Starkville, Tupelo and Oxford, to sororities and fraternities. Social groups and causes, from wildlife to Free Masons, are included, as are many others.

As for new favorites, Lamkin said people are “picking across the board.”

“I don’t know what they were thinking,” Clay County resident Adam Stephens said in reference to the design committee that picked the color combination on the new plate. “It’s just not an inviting color, it looks more like old moss. I want something more vibrant.”
“I like that Elvis one with that nice background,” one man said as he stood in line with a group renewing plates in Lamkin’s office. “That’s a lot more colorful.”

“I was in the military and had my share of olive or whatever color that is then,” stated Clay County resident Ed Benning when asked about the new plates.

He hasn’t renewed yet and said he likely would switch to a specialty plate.

“I’ll have to look at what all they have. Heck, by then I may just renew and move on. We’ll get used to it,” he said of his possible choice.

“I hadn’t even thought about a specialty plate all these years. Getting one now, though, a wildlife one,” said Lowndes resident Kim Ashley.

On a recent visit to West Point, Lt. Gov. Tate Reeves was asked about the plate by one of his supporters.

“Can’t we change that? It’s ugly,” she told the Republican as he campaigned for governor.

But not everyone is so serious.

“It’s just a license plate, what’s the big deal?” asked Amanda Barnes. “You don’t even see it on your own car and you’d better be looking up and not at the bottom of the car in front of you. It’s not a wedding dress or something like that.”

As for the words “In God We Trust,” the American Humanist Association, a national group that includes atheists and agnostics, sent the state a letter objecting to the new standard license plate design.

The Washington D.C,-based group said it will sue the state if it doesn’t make a design without a religious phrase or allow people to get another design without paying the extra fee.

Even that prompted some practical observations.

“I’m all for religious freedom and everything, but that is about like worrying about the color of the license plate. I’m not fond of the color but so what? And I don’t hear anyone asking for Monopoly money instead of a $20 bill because it has ‘In God We Trust’ on it,” mused Oktibbeha County resident Fred Parton.

“You at first want to be angry, but if it offends them, give them a break. I wouldn’t want something forced on me. Seems to me we’d all be better served talking about our differences. But this is something that is required so I guess I understand,” Lowndes County resident Doug Rogers responded.