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Kansas governor slams brakes on new license plate: ‘I’ve heard you loud and clear’

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TOPEKA — Gov. Laura Kelly said Tuesday she would halt production of a widely panned new license plate and return to the drawing table.

Republicans and Democrats recoiled last week when the state unveiled a blazing yellow model to replace the current design, in place since 2008, which places the state seal on a light blue background.

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“I promised to be a bipartisan governor, and I think we can all admit I succeeded at bringing Kansans across the political aisle together in disliking this new license plate,” Kelly said. “I’ve heard you loud and clear. Elected officials should be responsive to their constituents, which is why we are adjusting the process so Kansans can provide direct input on our state’s next license plate.”

Kelly’s office said the new process will allow Kansans to vote for their favorite design, and emphasized the primary function of a license plate is to be easy to read. Her office said it would offer details “soon” about the voting process and license plate options.

Kelly said it couldn’t just be a “lovely scene in the Flint Hills. That won’t work. It’s going to have to be something that is crisp and clean and easily read.”

Along with the new design, the state will transition from embossed plates — notorious for flaking paint — to print-on-demand plates. Kelly said the change in designs could delay the process by six months.

The design released last week positioned the license plate number between two stars and above the phrase “to the stars” in italics. The phrase is a reference to the state motto, ad astra per aspera, which means “to the stars through difficulties.”

It was poorly received. The design resembled the New York license plate and used the school colors of the University of Kansas’ archrival, the University of Missouri.

“The biggest concern for most people is actually that, unbeknownst to me, the lettering and numbering had to be black,” Kelly said. “And that, of course, on that gold background are the Mizzou colors. Never in my wildest dream would I think I would ever approve a Mizzou-colored license plate.”

Sen. Brenda Dietrich, R-Topeka, said she was flooded with telephone calls from constituents who objected to the black-yellow-blue design with bold letters and numbers. The decision to look for alternative, she said, was a “good idea.”

House Minority Leader Vic Miller, D-Topeka, also said the recalibration of the license plate was a good idea. The strategy to include public voting on options would be beneficial, he said.

“Everybody I ran into had a comment,” he said. “None of them were good.”

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The vote for a new license plate likely will include a social media poll, the governor said.

“That’s probably the easiest way to do it and the way that will impact the most people and give them the most opportunity,” Kelly said.

“We will never please everyone,” she added, “but I think we want to at least give the public a chance for input. You know, much like we do at election time.”

Kansas Reflector is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sherman Smith for questions: info@kansasreflector.com. Follow Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.

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