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Legislative plates popular among state lawmakers

Legislative plates popular among state lawmakers

Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008 7:23 pm

From AP, staff reports NASHVILLE — Tennessee’s 132 lawmakers have ordered more than 300 special state House and Senate license plates for themselves and family members, a public records request has found. Only 34 lawmakers declined the blue-lettered plates for themselves or their relatives. On the other end of the spectrum was state Rep. John Deberry, who topped the list of eligible plates with 11 — though he said not all of those are currently in use. The Memphis Democrat said he’s received both speeding and parking tickets in cars with the special plates. “Quite frankly, other than designating the car as having a state official or the family of a state official, I can’t see anything that it does for you,” Deberry said. “I’m not so sure it doesn’t target you.” Outgoing state Rep. Phillip Pinion of Union City said it’s never been a big deal with him. Some legislators like them, some don’t and Pinion has mixed feelings. “I stopped running legislative plates four years ago,” he said. “But my kids have had them ever since they’ve been driving. I put them on their cars when they were young just so I would know if they did anything wrong, somebody would tell me. “It’s up to the person. After I’d been up here a few years I got one for my dad just as a present for him. I got my mother one, just as a present to her, but she never got to use it, because she died. It said MOM1 on it. Dad’s says PAP. My kids’ plates had initials.” Pinion said he ran one of the special plates about 14 years before he quit using them. “The one time I got stopped, I got a ticket like anybody else,” he said. “Only one ticket in all those years. That’s pretty good, what with all my driving back and forth to Nashville.” He said his fellow legislator, state Rep. Pete Phillips of Shelbyville, has never run a legislative plate. “He never did have a plate and he never would put his age down in the (Tennessee) blue book,” he said. State Rep. Henry Fincher, a Cookeville Democrat, said the plates may be a nod to state law that bans lawmakers from being arrested on their way to the General Assembly. But he acknowledged that “there’s been no threat of that at least since Reconstruction.” Fincher said he declined to pay the $25 fee for the lawmaker tags because he already has specialty tags that benefit education. “I feel my money’s better spent there than on a House plate,” he said. A standard-issue Tennessee license plate costs $21.50. Specialty plates like the ones Fincher has cost $35 more, with the proceeds going to benefit a variety of nonprofit causes. Still, Fincher said he doesn’t see the plates lending special privilege to lawmakers. “It’s probably the opposite of a get-out-of-jail card,” Fincher said. “You’re hanging a sign on your back saying ‘I’m an elected official.’” Privacy laws prevent the state Department of Revenue from releasing the tag numbers on the legislative plates, so it’s not possible to verify whether cars with the special tags are more or less likely to get pulled over. State Republicans appear to be more enamored of the special plates identifying them as lawmakers. In the Senate, the 16 Republican members had 46 plates, while the GOP’s 46 House members had 116 plates. Meanwhile, the 16 Democrats in the Senate had 22 special plates, while their 53 colleagues in the House had 114. One notable name among those still holding rights to Senate plates is former Sen. Ward Crutchfield, a Chattanooga Democrat who pleaded guilty to a federal bribery charge in 2007. Department of Revenue spokeswoman Sophie Moery said lawmakers are issued plates for two years, and the department has no power to revoke them if they leave office before that time is up. Others with large numbers of plates include 10 owned by Rep. Chris Crider, R-Milan, and nine by Sen. Mike Williams, a Maynardville Independent. Crider is retiring from the Legislature and Williams lost his re-election campaign last month. Republican Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey has registered six Senate plates even though he is driven to and from his Blountville home in a state car. Democratic House Speaker Jimmy Naifeh, of Covington, did not register a House plate. Rep. Frank Niceley said he is cutting down from his five House plates because of the cost. The Strawberry Plains Republican said he doesn’t have a special plate on his own, but that he gives the plates to his wife and daughters. “You know your family goes through a lot when you’re up here and away from the farm, and that’s just a little perk for them to feel special,” he said. “I wish I could do more for them than that.” Rep. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, is among those who have declined a special plate. “I’m just too cheap, I’m not going to spend the money,” he said. “And all I have to do is cut somebody off once, they’re forever cussing my name, so politically it’s probably not a good idea.” Published in The Messenger 12.30.08

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