Kansas unveiled a new blue and gold license plate. People hated it and now it's back to square one

This art illustration from the Kansas Department of Revenue, provided on Tuesday, Nov. 28. 2023, shows the design for a new, standard vehicle license plate that the state had planned to start issuing in March 2024. Criticism of the design has prompted Gov. Laura Kelly to halt its production and promise a public vote on several possible designs. (Kansas Department of Revenue via AP) (Uncredited)

TOPEKA, Kan. – For some outsiders, Kansas conjures up images from “The Wizard of Oz:” flat, unending plains that are filmed in black and white to symbolize the drab life of the classic movie's heroine, Dorothy. So, when Kansas seeks to promote itself a little with a new license plate, it might be a problem if people see it as dull or “ugly as sin.”

In response to resounding criticism of the proposed navy blue and deep gold plate, Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly announced Tuesday that she had slammed the brakes on its production — only six days after her office unveiled the design. Facing a threat that the Republican-controlled Legislature would intervene, she promised an eventual public vote on several possible designs.

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The now-disfavored design was mostly gold with a navy strip across the top, navy numbers and no art. It was a sharp break with the current plate, which is pale blue with navy letters and numbers and features an embossed representation of the state seal, mostly in white. That plate has deteriorated over the years and become harder for law enforcement officers to read on the road, according to the state Department of Revenue, which issues them.

Starting in March, motorists would have been required to buy a new plate for 50 cents when they renewed a vehicle's annual registration. To avoid using the new plate, they would have had to opt for a specialized one and pay an additional $45.

Kelly initially praised the new design as promoting the state's optimism. The bottom featured the first half of the state motto, “To the stars,” in navy blue script.

The second half of the motto is, “through difficulties,” perhaps an apt description of the opposition she would immediately face after introducing the plate, despite her administration's professed good intentions.

Kris Kobach, the state's Republican attorney general, tweeted that the design closely resembled a New York plate known as “Empire Gold." A driver quoted by Fox4 television in Kansas City was reminded of the black and gold colors of the University of Missouri, once the arch-nemesis of the University of Kansas in a tame version of the states' border fighting before and during the Civil War.

With legislators set to reconvene in January, Republicans were prepared to mandate a pause and public comment. Lawmakers earlier this year authorized spending up to $9.8 million on producing new plates, and tapping leftover federal coronavirus pandemic relief dollars to cover much of the cost.

Even a Democratic legislator responded to the new design by tweeting, “Absolutely not.” The Kansas Reflector's opinion editor deemed it “ugly as sin” in a column under a headline calling it “slapdash and dull."

Those words aren't what Kansas officials wanted to bring to mind with a license plate, not when their state has had problems with some outsiders seeing it as flyover country, despite some stunning prairie vistas.

“I’ve heard you loud and clear," Kelly said in a statement issued Tuesday by her office. “Elected officials should be responsive to their constituents.”