At the request of constituents, the Henrico County Republican has filed legislation to establish a "Don't Tread On Me" license plate featuring the rattlesnake emblem and yellow background of the historic Gadsden Flag, which has become a rallying symbol for the tea party and like-minded conservative activists.
912 Richmond, a group under the umbrella of the Virginia Tea Party Patriots federation, is soliciting motorists to apply for the plates on its web site. Last month, members promoted the plate concept at the statewide tea party convention.
So far, a group official said, 600 people have expressed interest.
Karen Miner Hurd, the leader of Hampton Roads Tea Party, was excited about the plates and said she'll order them.
"You're talking to someone who flew a 'Don't Tread On Me' flag in 2000," she said.
Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli loves the idea and would put the plates on his car, spokesman Brian Gottstein said.
"I hope they're everywhere," added Richmond tea party activist Colleen Owens.
Not everyone shares that perspective, however.
"Even as families across the commonwealth struggle to make ends meet, John O'Bannon and Virginia Republicans are more focused on printing license plates for political allies than on creating jobs, improving education or fixing transportation," said Brian Coy, a spokesman for the Virginia Democratic Party.
Before a specialty plate can be issued in Virginia, 350 prepaid applications must be submitted to the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Virginia has more than 200 such plates, featuring military insignia, college logos, and nods to special interest groups and hobbyists.
Often, the General Assembly approves new license plates without much fuss.
But not always.
Proposed plates with messages that can be perceived as political have sparked battles in the legislature, as was the case earlier this year when Sen. Janet Howell, a Fairfax County Democrat, sponsored a bill to create a "Trust Women/Respect Choice" license plate. Her bill came a year after lawmakers approved a plate with an anti-abortion "Choose life" message.
Those are revenue-sharing plates, which provide the state and a beneficiary organization a portion of the money generated after the first 1,000 plates are issued.
That's not the case with the "Don't Tread On Me" plates.
O'Bannon's bill serves as a reminder of the growing influence of the tea party movement, whose members and compatriots advocate a legislative agenda that includes limits on eminent domain powers, tougher immigration enforcement, and a constitutional amendment allowing two-thirds of state legislatures to repeal a federal law.
In an interview, O'Bann on cautioned that his bill shouldn't be made into too big a deal.
"I'm not trying to make any political statement by carrying it," he said, adding that he's considering whether to put "Don't Tread On Me" plates on his personal vehicle if the design is approved.