DAKOTA CITY — Other than questionable play-calling by Husker football coaches, there might be nothing in Nebraska that gets scrutinized and criticized more than a perceived ugly license plate.
And from early returns, it sounds like the state's new plates will go over about as well as calling for a pass when the football is inches away from the goal line.
"What I've heard is, at best, people are lukewarm to it," Dakota County Treasurer Bob Giese said of the new design. "It's like anything. You either like it or you don't."
County treasurers won't begin issuing the new plates to motor vehicle owners for another week, but based on the few comments Giese has heard, this year's design stands about as much chance of winning support from a majority of the state's residents as a Democrat running for governor.
Unveiled in March, the new plate design features the word "Nebraska" in gold lettering in a blue field above a gray graphic depicting the Sower, the iconic statue of a pioneer spreading seed that stands atop the Capitol building in Lincoln.
Nebraska law requires new license plates be issued every six years. It's a law that virtually guarantees an uproar, and in the case of the last two designs, a little controversy.
Six years ago, Nebraskans were asked to vote online for their favorite among four designs. An online humor site panned the four options and urged its readers to vote for what it considered the worst, a boring black-and-white option. It won. State officials threw out the results when they realized that the vote had been skewed. Instead they went with the runner-up, the current green-and-yellow design featuring the state bird, the western meadowlark, perched on the state flower, the goldenrod.
This time, there was no public vote. So Nebraskans were shocked, or at least humored, when they got their first look at the new design and noticed the Sower. Or more specifically, they noticed the placement of the Sower's left hand and how he clutched his bag of seed in front of his waist, a depiction some considered to be sexually suggestive.
To make matters worse, it was later discovered that the artist who designed the plate based his design on a sower sculpture found on a Michigan State University bell tower rather than the statue atop the Nebraska Capitol.
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A quick redesign incorporated the Nebraska sower with his hands properly placed.
But if you check out the reader comments accompanying plate-related stories on any media website in Nebraska, the reviews still are mostly negative, no matter where the sower's holding his hands.
The sower aside, Giese said the plate's colors will be the main gripe. The gold-and-blue scheme is supposed to be a nod toward the colors on the state flag. Most Nebraskans prefer to fly flags bearing the unofficial state colors.
"Yellow and blue? People are going to question it," Giese said. "This is Nebraska, and it's the Cornhuskers. It's red and white."
Asked what a design that would gather majority approval might look like, Giese laughed. "Evidently we haven't got it yet."
Some vehicle owners who dislike the new design may choose instead to buy a Husker spirit plate or the new, visually appealing Mountain Lion Conservation plate. Both cost a little more, so it's likely that most vehicle owners will take the new plate, grumble about how it looks and hate it for six years.
"Most people will just put it on and live with it," Giese said.
Six years from now, a new plate with a new design will be released.
And Nebraskans will be quick to let designers know if they fumbled away the chance to create a better-looking license plate.