Gov. John Hickenlooper on Tuesday signed a bill to create a specialty license plate recognizing Pueblo chile, but it appears the state’s neighbor to the south will beat Colorado to the bumper with its own license plates featuring New Mexico’s famous Hatch chile.
“This is a proud day for all of Colorado, not just for Pueblo and the Lower Arkansas Valley, where the Pueblo chiles are grown,” said bill sponsor state Rep. Daneya Esgar, a Pueblo Democrat, after the ceremony. “Our local growers deserve recognition of their outstanding chiles. I’m just sorry they were out planting today and couldn’t come to the signing.”
Assistant Senate Minority Leader Leroy Garcia, also a Pueblo Democrat, is the bill’s other prime sponsor.
The Pueblo Chile Growers Association started a push to create a Pueblo chile specialty plate last fall when Esgar unveiled a proposed design and started gathering petition signatures at the Pueblo Chile & Frijoles Festival.
As the Colorado effort advanced, New Mexican lawmakers initiated a chile plate race of sorts. It lit a fire under Esgar when some boasted that New Mexico was the “chile capitol of the United States,” so Esgar proposed adding a safety clause to the legislation and the House agreed. But even though New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez vetoed her state’s original bill earlier this month — she objected to charging motorists an extra $35 for the specialty plates — the state will likely produce its chile plates before Colorado starts stamping its out.
Martinez upped the ante when she introduced the new plate, which declares “Chile capital of the world” in yellow letters on a black background.
“With the creation of this license plate, we are sending a strong message that New Mexico is the only chile capital of the world,” she said, according to the New Mexico Political Report.
Colorado House Democrats poured on the heat in a release announcing the bill had been signed, mocking the New Mexico plate as “a copycat effort” and lamenting that Martinez “had to veto an initial version of its bill.”
Like other Colorado specialty license plates, the Pueblo Chile plate will be available for a one-time $50 surcharge, and vehicle owners will be able to customize it — create their own vanity plates — as they can with other Colorado plates. It will be available for delivery starting in September 2018, officials said.
Under the bill, the specialty plate could be discontinued if fewer than 3,000 motorists are using the plate within five years, although drivers with the plates will be able to keep them and continue using them if that happens.
According to legislative research staff, nearly 20 percent of Colorado vehicle owners sport specialty plates, including those displaying alumni, military and other group affiliations. At this point, there are 46 specialty plate designs on state roads — a Pioneer plate, a Breast Cancer Awareness plate and a Rocky Mountain National Park plate among them.