Lincoln license plate causes riff among group

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By Linda Ireland

HODGENVILLE — A non-profit group is calling foul on the state’s issuance of a specialty license plate that honors the 200th anniversary of 16th President Abraham Lincoln’s birth.

Members of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, Kentucky Division, don’t believe the Kentucky Historical Society took the proper steps in approving the plate honoring Hodgenville’s native son.

Don Shelton, past commander for the group, said members “stumbled across” the issue while collecting signatures to request a specialty license plate of their own. The SCV’s plate may say “Kentucky Land of Jefferson Davis,” said Shelton, adding that plans are not finalized.

Davis, who was also born in Kentucky in 1808, served as President of the Confederate States of America 1861 to 1865 during the American Civil War. The SCV was founded in 1896 to honor the memory and heritage of Confederate soldiers, sailors and marines. The group limits membership to male descendants of any veteran who “served honorably in the Confederate armed forces,” according to the group’s Web site.

As Shelton noted, state law requires a minimum of 900 individual applications to accompany the overall plate application, from citizens actually planning to purchase the plates for their vehicles, along with a $25 fee from each applicant. The Kentucky Historical Society paid the fees in a lump sum.

The SCV issued a press release noting its dissatisfaction and calling for the resignation of bicentennial commission co-chairs LaRue County Judge/Executive Tommy Turner and Sen. Dan Kelly and Executive Director of the Kentucky Historical Society, Kent Whitworth.

Turner referred questions to Alice Rogers, Director of the Kentucky Historical Society.

Rogers said, in the case of the Lincoln plate, the Society paid the $22,500 fee up front.

“We’re not the first group to do it this way,” Rogers said. She added that any group that requests a specialty plate must meet certain standards and qualifications. For instance, no political party, specific religious group or for-profit company can request the plates.

Rogers said she spoke with Department of Transportation officials who assured her the license plate committee “followed appropriate procedures.”

Doug Hogan, a spokesperson for the state’s Transportation Cabinet, said the cabinet’s decision to approve the plate was due to a “resolution passed by the state senate urging the cabinet to proceed as quickly as possible, due to the Bicentennial.”

Other groups that were allowed to pay the application fees up front include the League of Kentucky Sportsmen’s plate and the Kentucky Dental Association, Hogan said.

“What the cabinet wants to be sure of is that we aren’t out any cost in the handling of the plate,” Hogan said.

Shelton disagreed.

“The real point is we have a law, we have a procedure (in applying for the plate),” he said.

“We (SCV) know that if we walked in with a check and not enough applications, we would be told ‘that’s not the way it works.’”

Shelton said the group’s complaint wasn’t aimed at Lincoln.

“The subject of the plate isn’t important,” he said. “It might even be a nice plate. What is important is that the law was circumvented, and taxpayer money was wasted to do it.”

The SCVs began collecting signatures about three months ago and don’t have quite enough for the plate, he said.

“It’s a high hurdle for most groups to overcome,” he said, adding that the SCV has about 800 members in Kentucky.

Shelton also noted “the Bicentennial Commission was voted a $4 million budget, more than was spent on the state’s bicentennial (in 1992).”

“Jefferson Davis was born in 1808,” he added, “how much will be spent on that?”

Shelton said the group did not contact the Kentucky Historical Society with its concerns and has not heard from the Society since the press release was issued.

The Lincoln license plate, unveiled at the Lincoln Days Festival in October by Gov. Ernie Fletcher, will be available for purchase through County Clerks’ offices in December.