ATLANTA — Georgia's specialty license plate featuring the Confederate flag should be redesigned, Gov. Nathan Deal said Tuesday, after initially telling reporters he wouldn't urge changes.
Deal did not call for removing the flag as governors in other states with similar license plates have done after the slayings of nine black people at a church in Charleston, South Carolina. Authorities have said a 21-year-old white man, Dylann Roof, who has been linked to a rambling, online diatribe professing allegiance to white supremacy and displaying the Confederate battle flag is responsible for the slayings.
Deal at first told reporters Tuesday afternoon that he wouldn't urge lawmakers to take any action on the plate, which features a full Confederate flag screened behind a vehicle's plate numbers and a smaller version contained with the Sons of Confederate Veterans logo.
Deal, who expressed no concerns about the tag after the larger flag was added in February of 2014, told reporters Tuesday that his position had not changed. He said lawmakers have the authority to eliminate specialty plates.
"I'm not going to suggest to them one way or the other what they do," Deal said.
However, Deal's aides soon called reporters back to the governor's office where Deal said he backed a redesign. He said that can be completed without any action from lawmakers and said his office "will move immediately in that direction."
"It's an effort to not let this become an issue in Georgia," Deal said.
Asked whether he wants the flag removed from the plate, Deal said that would be part of discussion with the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization.
"I doubt that they would agree to not have some representation of the Sons of the Confederacy," he said. "They deserve to have us discuss it with them as well as with any other parties that have an interest in it."
Representatives for the group were not immediately available.
Deal's office said 3,500 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans plates are active, out of about 9 million active license plates in Georgia.
The Confederate flag has a complex history in Georgia. A version of the state flag adopted in 1956 featured the Confederate battle flag across two-thirds of the rectangle. That version remained in place for decades, surviving a 1993 attempt by former Gov. Zell Miller to replace it before the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.
Deal commended Miller and former Gov. Roy Barnes, who was in office when the Confederate flag was removed from the state banner in 2003, and said the decision has served Georgia well.
"When you display a flag, it's seen by everybody and it's considered a symbol of a larger context of who is supporting the display of that flag," Deal said in the first interview on Tuesday. "As opposed to an individual's license plate, that's just an individual's choice as to what they want to put on their vehicle. I think there's a big difference."