Note: This column was published in The Sentinel-News in the early 2000s, when I was editor, and is re-published in its entirety, with permission.
Good news, Kentucky. It looks like Smiley Joe will soon be but a memory, a moment of sheer embarrassment for our otherwise beautiful state.
Yes, the world's dumbest license plate is expected be put to rest, alongside its 80s counterpart, that silly song that gets stuck in the prison of your brain: "Don't Worry, Be Happy." Bet you're singing it to yourself right now.
The Kentucky House last night was scheduled to hear HB 426, which would allow the state Transportation Cabinet to update license plates when it sees fit, rather than the current five-year schedule. I hope it passes and that the cabinet officials see fit very soon to change the plate.
The measure was approved twice and recommended for passage in the full House. Of course, then the Senate has to consider it and the governor has to sign it.
Commerce Secretary Jim Host didn't pull any punches in talking about the House bill.
"The main purpose of this bill is to get rid of the smiley face," he said.
Bravo. Somebody finally cut to the chase. Of course, it's easy to do when the vast majority is behind you.
I actually bought a pickup truck so I wouldn't have to have the plate. OK, that's a stretch of the truth, but a happy coincidence.
Somewhere, however, is a not-so-silent minority. Some people actually like the license plate.
In 2003, much to the chagrin of most Kentuckians, the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association named the ol' smiley face the best new plate in the entire country. It clawed its way past Maine's lobster plate by a single vote, which says a lot about the voting process itself.
From ALPCA's Web site: "While some Kentuckians raised an eyebrow at the selection, ALPCA members said they appreciated the distinctive, clear lettering, the bold graphic and the sharp colors -- attributes that helped the Kentucky plate stand out from the crowd."
Stand out indeed. That's like putting Bozo the Clown among a crowd of funeral directors and wondering why he stands out.
Joe's proposed replacement features the new state logo, "Unbridled Spirit," and fades vertically from white to blue. It has already received approval from the Transportation Cabinet and the Department of Corrections, which manufactures the plates (and you thought that was an urban legend). If approved, the plates would begin production in July.
I can't wait. For now, I'll give the goofy grin its own sendoff. In the words of legend Hank Williams: "Goodbye Joe, we gotta go, me oh my oh ..."
Writer James Mulcahy
spent 35 years as a newspaper journalist at small and large papers. He is currently a freelance photographer/writer/graphics designer, and he drives a school bus.