Brewer signs law that OKs Arizona license plate boosting 'tea party' causes - East Valley Tribune: Politics

Brewer signs law that OKs Arizona license plate boosting 'tea party' causes

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Posted: Friday, April 29, 2011 4:36 pm

Think you can identify every kind of Arizona license plate?

Odds are you can’t. There are close to four dozen different varieties.

And the task is only going to get harder now that Gov. Jan Brewer has signed legislation to create nearly a dozen more. That includes a controversial addition that will help raise money for “tea party’’ causes.

That decision comes over the objections of some lawmakers that this is a radical departure from the other special plates. Proceeds from them are earmarked for special causes or charities, ranging from helping pay to spay and neuter pets to cancer awareness and promoting organ donations.

Other plates raise money for scholarships at the three state universities or veterans programs.

And a few are available only to those who qualify, like former prisoners of war, Pearl Harbor survivors or firefighters.

What makes this one different is what some see as the political goal.

But gubernatorial press aide Matthew Benson said his boss does not see it that way.

“I don’t believe this is overtly political,’’ he said.

“We’re talking about an effort that supports limited government and the Constitution,’’ Benson continued. “And that’s a cause that Gov. Brewer believes most Arizonans can get behind.’’

Benson brushed aside the fact that the money raised from the sale of these license plates also would go to promoting what the legislation says are other “tea party’’ goals including “free enterprise for businesses’’ and “stand for the security of borders with other nations for the stability and safety of the United States.’’

“That’s among the different planks of the tea party platform, if that’s the word for it,’’ he said.

What’s at the heart of this new plate -- and virtually all these license plates -- is money. Those who want them shell out an extra $25 a year on top of regular vehicle registration fees.

Of that, $8 goes to the Department of Transportation. The other $17 goes to the sponsoring organization.

To get a special plate, there is currently only one option: Get a friendly lawmaker to sponsor a bill, shepherd it through the legislative process and convince the governor to sign it. The sponsoring organization also has to come up with $32,000 for the Department of Transportation to design and produce the first ones.

SB 1402 contains several plates for more traditional causes. For example, one will raise money for an association that represents law enforcement officers. Another “hunger awareness’’ plate will provide cash to an organization that coordinates food bank services. A third promotes multiple sclerosis awareness.

There also will be new license plates to finance childhood cancer research and fund litter prevention.

And there also will be one to benefit a public television station -- but only the one that serves central and northern Arizona, meaning KAET-TV. None of that cash will help support Tucson-based KUAT-TV.

Then there is the tea party plate, where lawmakers directed the design be the Gadsden flag. That’s the familiar banner with a coiled rattlesnake on a yellow background above the words “Don’t tread on me.’’

Anything raised from sales of those will be funneled through a special committee. And the legislation leaves no doubt of who is to benefit.

One member has to be the director of a nonprofit corporation with the mission of bringing together, empowering and training tea party groups. The other 12, all appointed by the governor, Senate president or House speaker, all have to represent organizations that promote tea party principles, specifically defined as protecting state sovereignty, standing for the “security of borders’’ and adhering to tenets of “limited government, free enterprise for businesses and fiscal responsibility by state and local government.’’

All that got the attention of Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.

“We have never had a license plate that promotes a political agenda,’’ she said.

And House Minority Leader Chad Campbell, D-Phoenix, said if motorists want to display their political loyalties and give money to the cause, tea party organizations can sell non-official license plates that can be mounted on the front of cars and trucks.

Benson said, though, there is some precedent for political messages on license plates. One, with the message “Choose Life’’ benefits the Arizona Life Coalition, made up of groups opposed to abortion.

That, however, was not done by the Legislature. Proponents sought the special plate from the Arizona License Plate Commission, an independent group set up by lawmakers years ago to make these kinds of decisions. But commission members balked, saying such a political message was improper for a state-issued license plate.

Supporters sued, convincing a federal appellate court that the commission had to give the go-ahead. They did that -- and then were disbanded.

This is actually the second time this year that lawmakers have approved -- and Brewer has signed -- legislation aimed at promoting what has become the unofficial symbol of the tea party. Another new law will add the Gadsden flag to the list of banners that property owners can fly in their yards regardless of rules by homeowner associations. That list until now has included the U.S. and Arizona flags, the flags of various branches of service, the flags of Indian nations and the POW-MIA flag.

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