Perry pressured to denounce Confederate plates

DES MOINES, IA - AUGUST 15: Republican presidential candidate Texas governor Rick Perry buys a vegetarian corndog at the Iowa State Fair August 15, 2011 in Des Moines, Iowa. Perry did not realize the treat was vegetarian until after he started eating. The visit is part of Perry's first campaign trip to Iowa since declaring he would seek the Republican nomination for president on August 13. Scott Olson/Getty Images

UPDATED 1:58 p.m. ET

Rick Perry
Scott Olson/Getty Images
Rick Perry is facing another controversy over race.

Hours before Perry was scheduled to meet his Republican rivals at a debate in New Hampshire, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, held a press conference to demand that the Texas governor use the forum to denounce a vanity license plate displaying the Confederate battle flag, which is under consideration for approval by the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles. Debate sponsors have already announced that the forum will be dedicated to the economy.

His home state congresswoman's decision to make an issue of the Confederate flag comes less than two weeks after Perry faced accusations that he had failed to cover up a racially offensive term on rock outside his family's hunting lodge in Texas. Perry insists that his family moved quickly to efface the word.

Jackson Lee, who is African American, says blacks will also be offended by the a license plate that commemorates a regime that battled to save slavery.

"Ill-intended or not, why would African Americans want to be reminded of a legalized system of involuntary servitude, dehumanization, rape and mass murder? It's as undesirable as another ethnic community wishing to relive the Holocaust," said a statement issued by the congresswoman after her press conference. "I am calling for Governor Perry to denounce the Confederate Flag License plate. I would like for him to go on record TONIGHT during the GOP Presidential Debate to be held at Dartmouth College denouncing the creation of this type of license plate."

Campaign spokesman Mark Miner did not return a request for comment.

In the past, the governor has defended the use of the flag, saying his state "should never forget our history." A decade ago, he opposed an NAACP campaign to remove symbols of the Confederacy from government buildings across the south.

The nine-member DMV board in Texas - which, The Houston Chronicle notes, was entirely appointed by Perry - will meet next month at the earliest to consider the plate. Texas Land Commissioner Jerry Patterson told the Chronicle the board will likely table the motion for now because of controversy around the issue.

Jackson Lee also called on the DMV to reject the proposal. "Those who are advancing such a plan do not reflect the sentiments of most Texans," she said, referring to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, which is sponsoring the plate. The group would front the $8,000 cost to the state for producing and offering the plate, and would use proceeds from a premium on the licensing fee for grave markers and monuments, according to the Chronicle.

Perry already has his work cut out for him at tonight's GOP debate without worrying about further charges that he hasn't done enough to combat racism. After a series of weak performances, he has to reassure voters - and donors -- that he can be effective in a debate setting.

Correction: The original version of this story gave an incorrect time for a proposed Texas Department of Motor Vehicles meeting to consider a controversial license plate. The meeting will be held next month at the earliest.

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    Rebecca Kaplan covers the 2012 presidential campaign for CBS News and National Journal.

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