Why is Texas always a mere Fort Sumter away from seceding?

Secession talk has always been Texas-sized in Texas. But if nothing else, the latest online request to the White House for independence really means: Get ready for four more years of acrimony between Austin and Washington.

screen capture of petitions.whitehouse.gov
The Obama administration introduced 'We the People,' at petitions.whitehouse.gov, in September 2011 in a bid to create 'an unprecedented level of openness in government,' according to the website.

Did you know Texas is actually not a US state, but an occupied land, bear-hugged, and bamboozled into the Union not by will but by force?

It’s true! Well, kind of.

If there’s one thing that’s not news in Texas, it’s secession talk, which has been going on ever since the United States, with the OK from the then-nine-year-old independent republic’s president, annexed the Lone Star state and extended the federal umbrella over the Palo Pinto Mountains and beyond. That annexation and the legal details of the return of Texas into the Union after the South lost the Civil War have been contested over the years in court by various “Republic of Texas” splinter groups.

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Now, here we go again: After a contested election that for some confirmed the depth of the political and philosophical distance between Washington and Austin, over 112,000 Texans are ready to take their ball (and all that oil) and go home by petitioning the White House’s “We the People” website for independence. (The  Obama administration now owes Texans an official response by mid-December, as it does dozens of other similar state secession requests. The White House website promises a response to petitions with over 25,000 names.) 

But if the secessionist numbers are on the whole paltry, the emotions are real and widespread. Indeed, if national Republicans were chastened by the national election, conservatives in Texas seemed to double down on rebelliousness. If the tea party flagged nationally, not so in Texas, where tea party Republicans gained ground in the Senate, the legislature turned even more Republican, and GOP Gov. Rick Perry (who once suggested secession might not be the worst idea) dug in his heels for more battles with Washington, against which the state has already filed 24 lawsuits on issues ranging from environmental laws to voting rights.

Moreover, Texas is leading the online secession movement on the White House website – and not just because there are lots of Texans. Perhaps the greatest reason is that the fundamentals of nationhood – materially, legally and philosophically – are more evident in Texas, at least arguably, than any other state. Add to that its political counterweight status to Washington, it is, always has been, and likely always will be, the one state to most likely sign divorce papers.

Having once been a nation, Texas could conceivably go at it again. Successful secession would mean Texas would instantly become the 40th largest country on the globe, with a wealth of oil and other natural resources. No longer would Austin have to bow by executive orders and bureaucratic fiats from Washington. According to this vision, lovers of individual freedom and enterprise would flock to Texas, bolstering a wave of migration and investment that has allowed the state to weather the nation’s economic storm better than most.

“This ‘nation,’ as some would call it, is not only a highly functional, world-class economy, engaging in robust commerce with other nations and neighboring states, it actually has a budget, a balanced one at that,” writes Chuck Poole, a columnist with the Arlington, Tex., Voice. “… [B]ut why should the Great Republic of Texas continue to be at the losing end of the welfare worm-hole that wends its way to New York and other so-called blue states by way of the Washington vortex?”

To be sure, there are big problems to contend with. Yes, Texas taxpayers send $198 billion in income tax to Washington while the state receives only $33 billion in payments from Washington. But imagine the real consequences of an independent Texas: 15 major Army bases, including Fort Hood, gone. As part of a deal, won’t Washington want to be repaid for its massive infrastructure investments in Texas, such as the $250 million a year that Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport receives. The end of federal research dollars would shrink the Lone Star Republic’s edifices of higher education to a fraction of their current size and capability.  And Texas could probably kiss goodbye any chance to land NASA's next major rocket launch pad – not to mention the $3 billion that NASA invests in Texas annually.

Quibbling with the claim by Rep. Ron Paul (R) of Texas that secession is an “American principle” born of the bloody split with Great Britain, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s editorial board notes that Great Britain “would never see American colonies as anything other than a treasure to be pilfered.… By contrast, Texas today is irrevocably linked economically, socially and legally with the United States.”

While the Star-Telegram eventually calls the 2012 secessionists “sore losers,” there’s evidence that the idea isn’t necessarily anathema to the rest of republic.

“This marriage has run its course,” agrees author Paul Vandevelder, in an op-ed for the Los Angeles Times this week. “Too many niggling little things built up over time, driving us all crazy. So let’s just stop. It’s time to divvy up the china and draft a property settlement.”

As proof of the depth of the feelings, Texas already did draw up a divorce decree, of sorts. In 2009, the Texas legislature approved a nonbinding resolution that claimed Texas sovereignty under the Tenth Amendment (which says all powers not expressly given to Washington shall be enumerated to the States), and declared “that this service as notice and demand to the federal government, as our agent, to cease and desist, effective immediately, mandates that are beyond the scope of these constitutionally delegated powers.”

That’s Texas tough, to be sure, but not a declaration of independence. Despite the hard feelings, Texans actually don’t want to become a US neighbor to the South. (The word Texas after all comes from the Caddo Indian word tejas, meaning “friends” or “allies.”) In a Rasmussen poll, 75 percent of Texans said they’d actively oppose secession, although another poll pegged 48 percent of Republicans in the state as saying, “Heck, yeah,” to the idea.

For now, Texas’ real goal isn’t secession. It’s a chance for the state’s conservatives to show the American people how wrong they were on Election Day. “Texas Republicans are upbeat and almost giddy about being the leaders of the resistance to Barack Obama’s second-term agenda,” writes Richard Dunham in the Houston Chronicle.

Of course, that may mean less real clout in Washington. And come as early as 2020, some political scientists predict a demographic “time bomb” will go off in Texas, where its burgeoning Hispanic population could turn the Lone Star Republic into a blue state.

Just as with secession, that’s an idea just too crazy to seriously ponder – at least for now.

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