By Bill Cotterell Florida Capital Bureau Political Editor
A Panhandle legislator with a proud disdain for political correctness and no fear of bucking Gov. Charlie Crist or the state Republican Party wants Florida to issue license tags honoring "Confederate Heritage" -- complete with images of Dixie flags and buttons from Rebel uniforms.
"It’s a part of our history, whether we like it or not," Rep. Don Brown, R-DeFuniak Springs, said in an interview. "I appreciate the heritage and the good things that people feel about our past."
Motorists could pay $25 for the tag, with proceeds going to education programs run by Sons of Confederate Veterans, graveyard location and maintenance, museum exhibits and other cultural activities. The current version of Brown’s bill (HB 1007) also provides a specialty tag for the Choctaw tribe, but an aide said the issues will be separated into two stand-alone bills.Bob Hurst, second lieutenant commander of the Sons of Confederate Veterans’ Florida organization and head of its Tallahassee camp, said the state group paid a $60,000 filing fee and gathered more than 30,000 signatures from drivers ready to buy a Confederate Heritage tag if the Legislature authorizes it."We’ve done everything required of us," said Hurst. "All we’re asking for is to be treated fairly and equally. There are 108 specialty tags now and six before the Legislature this year. I hope the governor and Legislature will play by the rules; if not, I think it speaks poorly of the Florida Legislature."But state Sen. Al Lawson, D-Tallahassee, said tag supporters have a lost cause. Lawson, who served 18 years in the House, said Crist and Florida GOP leaders won’t want the state embroiled in the kind of controversy the flag has sparked in South Carolina, Mississippi and Georgia."I would not let the bill go through with that on it, if it comes over from the House," said Lawson, who chairs the Governmental Operations Committee. "I’m really surprised Rep. Brown would even consider doing it. It doesn’t make sense to create this kind of divisiveness in the legislative session."Proceeds from tag sales would be used "to fund educational programs in schools, cemetery location and restoration, educational scholarship programs and other projects within the state promoting Florida’s history and heritage."Brown has clashed with his party's leadership in the past -- he lost his leadership position last year when he voted against insurance reform legislation. He said he is not worried about political sensitivites regarding the flag."I can’t be responsible for what the political climate may be," he said. "But I can be responsible for doing what I think is right."