ATLANTA -- Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal said Wednesday he takes no issue with the state providing aspecialty license tag featuring the Confederate battle flag.
When the newest version made national news last week, Deal seemed caught off guard by a question about it.
Wednesday he told 11 Alive News he sees no problem with it.
"I don't think that it is something that we should be that concerned about," Deal said.
He pointed out that it is just one of many specialty tags Georgia has offered to various groups over the years.
The Georgia tag bearing the Confederate battle flag has been offered to the Sons of Confederate Veterans organization since 2003.
The group brought attention to it themselves last week by issuing a news release showing the latest version, which has a bolder design.
They say it is simply a way to honor the memory of their ancestors.
But some civil rights groups, including the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, call it an offensive reminder of slavery and oppression.
A small group of protestors gathered outside a license tag office in Cobb County to speak against the tag.
"By the state sanctioning that, that means that they are upholding treason," claimed Mark Bell of New Order.
"It portrays racism, hatred," said Gerald Rose of New Order.
The successful push to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag was lead by Rep. Tyrone Brooks, (D), Atlanta, more than a decade ago.
He he told 11 Alive the issue isn't really one for the legislature to deal with because legislators could probably only write a law doing away with all specialty tags rather than banning a specific one.
He called it an administrative matter that's up to Governor Deal and Georgia Revenue Commissioner Douglas MacGinnitie. Brooks urged them reconsider the plate.
"If the American Nazi Party applied for one of those, would we grant one? Absolutely no," Brooks said.
Governor Deal told 11 Alive he does not think continuing to offer the plate could hurt Georgia's image.
"I don't think so," he said. "Hopefully, those who take offense at it will look at the fact that it is a part of a cultural heritage of our state."
A spokesman for Revenue Commissioner MacGinnitie said his office would have "no further comment" on the controversy.
The revenue department sent 11 Alive figures showing 10,625 SCV tags have been issued since it was first approved in 2003.
They said only 439 were issued between 2012 and 2013, with only 35 ordered for this year's new design.
Georgia is one of 9 states with SCV approved plates: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Virginia.
Three states, Florida, Kentucky and Texas, refused requests for SCV plates.
A lawsuit by the group against Texas is still in the courts.
As for the political impact, this was a slam dunk for Governor Deal -- letting his white, Republican, conservative base know, less than three months before the primary election, that he supports the flag on the plate.
"This is an election year, he has a primary challenge, and that primary challenge is coming from his right flank," said Emory University Political Science Professor Andra Gillespie. "Governor Deal can potentially shore up his right flank by taking a stance on this issue" and supporting the flag.
So it is still an issue that is radioactive in Georgia politics.
Governor Roy Barnes lost reelection bid in 2002, in part, because voters were mad at him for working with Rep. Brooks to take the Confederate battle flag off of the official state flag.
In 2014, African American supporters of President Barack Obama are furious at him for nominating Georgia Court of Appeals Judge Michael Boggs to the U.S. District Court bench in Atlanta. They are trying to defeat the Boggs nomination partly because, when he was a state representative, he voted to keep the Confederate battle emblem on the Georgia flag.
The likely Democrat nominee for Governor, Sen. Jason Carter, (D), Decatur, has not commented, yet.
Emory's Andra Gillespie predicts Carter will take a stand, and come out forcefully against the flag.
"It's a way for him to galvanize support within the civil rights community so that he has a very, very enthusiastic African American vote that wants to turn out in large numbers for him."