Few states can claim an official tourist slogan as (inadvertently?) truthful as “Texas: It’s like a whole other country.” With that in mind, Governor Rick Perry’s caught-up-in-the-moment suggestion at an April 15 Tea Party protest in Austin that Texas might secede from the United States has drawn attention to a state movement eager to remove the word “like” from that slogan.
To be fair, Perry’s comment, a response to the swelling “Secede!” chants from income-tax-refuseniks in the crowd, was not an explicit call for independence. It was more like a not-so-veiled threat. Perry said: “If Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that? But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.”
While Perry’s bombshell left him open to national ridicule, he’s not necessarily out of step with the voters of his state. A new Daily Kos poll finds that 35 percent of all Texans think the state would be better off as an independent nation, a position held by 48 percent of Republicans. And both out-of-the-box Republican Congressman Ron Paul and former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay were quick to defend Perry by stating that secession movements are in the classic American tradition. Of course, you could say the same about poll taxes, crime families, native tribe massacres, topless bars, and profanity-spewing Little League dads, but why muddy up the revolutionary waters with cynicism?
Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement, compares the Lone Star State’s relationship with the USA to that of an abused spouse under the thumb of a chronic abuser. He says the time has come for a quickie divorce.
However extreme Miller’s views may seem to those of us who’ve become attached to the notion of a 50-state union, he’s no firebreathing conspiracy theorist or militia-compound recluse. You won’t hear him utter a syllable about Ruby Ridge, Branch Davidians, or the authenticity of Barack Obama’s birth certificate. He diplomatically avoids partisan potshots and emphasizes that his organization has almost as many liberals as conservatives.
“I think that the frustration that people are feeling is rooted not in what’s going on necessarily with the Obama administration now,” he says. “While that is kind of a rallying cry for a lot of the conservatives, by and large the people that are opposed to Obama’s policies right now, that label themselves conservatives, are not big fans of Texas independence.”
Miller doesn’t hesitate to criticize George W. Bush’s fiscal policies or question the wisdom of committing troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. He also sees a federally imposed border wall in this state as a prime example of Beltway stupidity.
Larry Kilgore, a Republican candidate for governor in 2010, falls more readily into the stereotypical secessionist mold: a partisan conservative who despises the federal government and is willing to take his notions of states’ rights to the extreme.
“We don’t have control over education, we don’t have control over our pro-life issues, we don’t have control over our economic issues, yet the 10th Amendment says that the states should have that,” Kilgore says, in a thick Amarillo drawl.
What would an independent Texas look like? Imagine an exciting future in which you need a passport to visit Arkansas, the Red River Rivalry becomes an international competition, senior citizens learn to live without Social Security and Medicare, and the Republic of Texas must create its own military.
Kilgore argues that the military challenge can be easily sorted out. “After the people of Texas have the opportunity to vote for independence, and our congressmen go up there and work with Washington, we will have to negotiate who gets what ships, who gets what aircraft, who gets what bases, who gets what personnel,” he says. “For example, the United States is not going to want folks in their military who are diehard Texans. Texans aren’t going to want folks in their military who are diehard United States people.”
He has a point. We all know those “United States people” have shifty eyes and can’t be trusted. But will San Antonians tune in to a show called Texan Idol?
Secessionist Movements: A Texas Tradition
It is part of the grand Texas political tradition that when the game doesn’t go our way, we like to take our ball and go home.
In 1830, when Mexico banned the importation of slaves into Texas, Texan settlers decided that they’d had enough of oppressive Mexican rule, and launched a serious independence movement.
In 1861, only 16 years after the United States annexed Texas, this state joined the Confederacy in a secession bid — once again driven by the slavery issue — that resulted in the Civil War.
At the end of the Civil War, some stubborn Texans insisted that the Lone Star State had never been part of the Union, since the United States annexed it by a joint resolution of Congress, rather than an annexation treaty. That argument has been a favored loophole for Texas secessionists ever since, and is frequently discussed by current advocates of Texas independence.
Another popular topic over the years for restless Texans is the 1845 annexation provision which enables Texas to split into as many as five states “by the consent of said state.” An odd item meant to ensure balance between pro-slavery and anti-slavery states, the five-state-split option has taken on a mythic power in Texas, seemingly proving that we stand apart from the rest of the union, that we did the U.S. a favor by hooking up with them, not the other way around.
In 2003, when GOP redistricting efforts threatened to cut representation for South Texas, some angry Valley residents began calling for a split from the rest of the state. In Texas, after all, the desire for independence is so strong that even the state legislature can be seen as an overbearing central authority.