A specialty plate for every group

Posted Sept. 19, 2008, at 6:16 p.m.

As a highly trained observer, I long ago deduced that people who are prone to attach a sticker to the bumper of their motor vehicle can almost never stop at one.

The operating mantra of these unfortunate addicts seems to be that one good bumper sticker deserves another. Before long the “Honk If You Love Jesus” sticker on the left side of their bumper is competing with another on the right offering such insight as “Women Make Great Leaders — You’re Following One Now.”

Soon all manner of social commentary, from the obscure to the profound, begins its insidious creep to other parts of the vehicle. Before long, the overkill of competing messages serves only to turn off any potential connoisseur of fine bumper stickers, and about the only theme that comes through loud and clear is that the poor sap who has amassed the collection should consider seeking professional help for his pitiful obsession.

When it comes to specialty license plates for motor vehicles, the state of Maine is a lot like the undisciplined bumper sticker addict who can’t get enough of a good thing. We have so many specialty plates now that, even with a scorecard, a normal person would be hard-pressed to recognize all of the players.

There are specialty plates for the University of Maine, plates for state vehicles, sportsmen and tree huggers, plates promoting agriculture and plates to honor military personnel currently serving and military veterans having served, including the subsets of Purple Heart and Medal of Honor recipients. Members of the Legislature, state police, firemen and men and women in the National Guard all have special plates. A breast cancer support services plate becomes available on Oct. 1.

As yet, there is no special plate for illegal aliens who have managed to stay one step ahead of the Border Patrol, or left-handed golfers with handicaps below 10. But it’s probably only a matter of time.

The latest specialty plate in the works would benefit state animal welfare programs. The Capitol News Service reports that more than 2,000 Mainers have contributed $50,000 to a fund that will begin the process of creating a plate encouraging people to “rescue, love, adopt” animals that have fallen on hard times. The state requires that the upfront costs of producing a specialty plate be raised by the group promoting the plate before the Legislature will consider the proposition.

Not that I have anything against the animal welfare crowd and its admirable concern for abandoned and stray pets: Some of my better friends are animal protectors, which is good, because it has been my experience that an old dawg cannot have too much protection these days.

But the natives grow restless. An unscientific online poll conducted by the Bangor Daily News showed that three-quarters of the respondents have become weary of the special plates craze. And who can blame them?

Secretary of State Matt Dunlap says there is a limit to how many special plates the state can efficiently crank out. Some 15 years ago, when I wrote a column about Maine’s proliferating specialty license plates, an identical concern was raised by the then-secretary of state. We had gone to hell with the joke, the man suggested in so many words, and it was time to put a lid on it, regardless of whether the plates may be moneymakers for the state.

But the hodgepodge has only grown worse, seriously diluting the Vacationland theme that was the only message a Maine license plate trumpeted in simpler times.

The best bumper sticker message I’ve ever seen boldly stated the obvious. “Bumper Sticker,” it read, and I thought, boy, ain’t that the truth. That’s the type of innovative thinking outside the box we need when it comes to license plates.

In this state of rugged individualists, I don’t suppose that a piece of metal stamped “License Plate” with a simple set of numbers to distinguish one road warrior from the next would pass muster as a one-size-fits-all official state of Maine plate.

But we’d no longer need a scorecard to identify the players and their confusing mixed signals in our strange game of dueling license plates.

BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. Readers may reach him by e-mail at olddawg@bangordailynews.net.

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