By Jack Elliot Jr./The Associated Press
Mississippi motorists may be allowed soon to use their vehicles to make a statement: their solidarity with the conservative tea party movement — or maybe they want to help a terminally ill child hunt and fish.
Among the three dozen bills that would authorize a new round of specialty license plates is one by Sen. Walter Michel, a Republican from Jackson.
Michel’s bill would authorize the phrase “Don’t Tread On Me” to be placed on a new specialty plate. As with all other specialty tags, the Department of Revenue would approve the color and design.
Michel said he filed the bill at the request of a constituent, just as he had done to create specialty tags for other organizations, including the National Rifle Association and Jackson Academy, a private school.
And while “Don’t Tread on Me” appears on proposed tea party-backed tags in other states, Madison attorney Stephen Stamboulieh says he had a different goal in mind.
“I’m not really affiliated with any tea party. It’s pretty much, in my view, apolitical with the money going to Catch-A-Dream,” Stamboulieh said.
The Catch-A-Dream Foundation gives children with life-threatening illnesses the chance to experience an outdoor adventure, such as hunting and fishing.
Stamboulieh said he had seen a similar tag in other states and thought the design was “really cool looking” and the money could be “spent on kids rather than any political agenda.”
Stamboulieh’s proposed design shows a coiled snake on the left side with the letters “RKBA” — standing for the “Right to Keep and Bear Arms” — on the right.
“The Right to Keep and Bear Arms is a constitutional right. I don’t think constitutional rights are political,” he said.
“Don’t Tread On Me” tags tied to the tea party are under consideration in other states.
In Virginia, a “Don’t Tread On Me” plate would feature the rattlesnake emblem and yellow background of the historic Gadsden Flag, which has become a symbol for the tea party movement.
In Indiana, the design would feature a picture of a coiled snake and the words “Don’t Tread on Me,” similar to the flag used during the American Revolution.
In Nevada, the proposed plate would bear the image of a rattlesnake and the Revolutionary War-era Gadsden flag.
Stamboulieh said the flag has a long history unrelated to the tea party’s recent emergence.
Jackson attorney Mark Mayfield, who has been active in the MS Tea Party, an umbrella organization of 10 member chapters around the state, says the group is discussing plans to approach the Legislature about a similar tag. He said details are being worked out and he did not know about Michel’s bill.
Mayfield said any such license plate would be to raise money for an authorized educational nonprofit organization.
He said the tag could serve as a means to raise awareness about issues the tea party supports such as controlling spending, lower taxes and smaller, more constitutional government.
“It’s more an educational push rather than a partisan effort,” Mayfield said.
Mississippi has more than five dozen specialty tags, touting everything from wildlife conservation to public and private universities. There are tags for Purple Heart winners, firefighters and law enforcement officers, even tags for legislators and ex-governors.
Drivers pay extra fees for specialty tags, and money is routed to various programs. The wildlife tags, for instance, bring money for wildlife conservation.
The Mississippi Firefighters Memorial Burn Center collects $1 off each specialty tag.