By DAVE MONTGOMERY firstname.lastname@example.org
AUSTIN — As head of the Texas Nationalist Movement, Daniel Miller of Nederland believes it’s time for the Lone Star State to sever its bond with the United States and return to the days when Texas was an independent republic.
“Independence. In our lifetime,” Miller’s organization proclaims on its Web site.
When Gov. Rick Perry suggested that some Texans might want to secede from the Union because they are fed up with the federal government, the remarks drew nationwide news coverage and became fodder for late-night comedians.
But to Texas separatists like Miller and Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Kilgore of Mansfield, secession is no laughing matter. Nor is it exclusive to the nation’s second-largest state.
Fanned by angry contempt for Washington, secession movements have sprouted up in perhaps more than a dozen states in recent years. In Vermont, retired economics professor Thomas Naylor leads the Second Vermont Republic, a self-styled citizens network dedicated to extracting the sparsely populated New England state from “the American Empire.”
And on the other side of the continent, Northwestern separatists envision a “Republic of Cascadia” carved out of Oregon, Washington and the Canadian province of British Columbia.
While most Americans dismiss the breakaway sentiments, sociologists and political experts say they are part of a larger anti-Washington wave that is rapidly spreading across the country.
More commonplace are states’ rights movements to directly challenge federal laws, a citizen revolt that one scholar says is unparalleled in modern times. Among the actions in which states are thumbing their nose at Washington:
■ Montana and Tennessee have enacted legislation declaring that firearms made and kept within those states are beyond the authority of the federal government. Similar versions of the law, known as the Firearms Freedom Act, have been introduced in at least four other states.
■ Arizona lawmakers will let voters decide a proposed state constitutional amendment that would opt the state out of federal healthcare mandates under consideration in Congress. The amendment will be placed on the November 2010 ballot. State Rep. Nancy Barto, R-Phoenix, said five other states considered similar versions of the amendment this year and at least nine others are expected to do so next year.
■ Nearly two dozen states have approved resolutions refusing to participate in the Real ID Act of 2005, which requires that driver’s licenses and state ID cards conform to federal standards. A similar resolution was introduced in the 2009 Texas Legislature but died in committee.
■ A campaign called “Bring the Guard Home” is pushing legislation in 23 states that would empower governors to recall state National Guard units from Iraq on the premise that the federal law authorizing such deployments has expired. “It’s gaining momentum, to say the least,” said Jim Draeger, program manager for Peace Action Wisconsin. He said the initiative has a respectable chance of passing the Legislature in his state.
Rising public anger over the way Washington does business has produced a growing outcry for state sovereignty and strict adherence to the 10th Amendment, which says powers not specifically delegated to the federal government by the Constitution belong to the states.
Texas was an epicenter for this year’s “tea party” protests, in which thousands of Americans displayed their contempt for rising taxes and federal intrusion.
Michael Boldin, founder of the Tenth Amendment Center in Los Angeles, a think tank that monitors states’ rights activity, said defiance of federal policy is “unprecedented” and cuts across the philosophical spectrum, ranging from staunch conservatives to anti-war activists to civil libertarians. Legislatures in 37 states, he said, have introduced state sovereignty resolutions and at least seven have passed.
Perry, who faces a hard-fought Republican primary challenge from U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, has made state sovereignty one of his signature themes. During the 2009 Legislature, he endorsed an unsuccessful resolution supporting the 10th Amendment, asserting that “our federal government has become oppressive in its size, its intrusion into the lives of our citizens, and its interference with the affairs of our state.”
After a tea party rally in April, Perry told reporters that secession might be on the minds of some Texans disgusted with the federal government. He later stressed that he wasn’t advocating secession, telling the Star-Telegram, “America is a great country, and Texas wants to stay in that union and help our way out of” the nation’s economic downturn.
But others are advocating secession.
In a poll of 1,209 respondents conducted by Zogby International last year, 22 percent said they believed that “any state or region” has the right to secede and become an independent republic, and 18 percent said they would support a secessionist movement in their state. Conversely, more than 70 percent expressed opposition to secession.
Kirk Sale of Mount Pleasant, S.C., formed the Middlebury Institute in 2004 for the study of “separatism, secession and self-determination.” The institute conducted the Third North American Secessionist Convention in New Hampshire in 2008, drawing delegates from about two dozen secessionist organizations in the United States and Canada.
Secessionist organizations are operating at various levels of activity in Texas, Vermont, New Hampshire, Alaska and Hawaii. Breakaway sentiments and anger at Washington also run high within the Southern National Congress, a 14-state organization to “express Southern grievances and promote Southern interests.”
Chairman Tom Moore, who lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of southwest Virginia, says the group is “not explicitly a secessionist organization” although “most of our people probably do favor that option.”
For many, the mention of secession brings to mind the most turbulent years in American history, when 13 Southern states broke away from the Union in 1860 and ’61, plunging the country into a Civil War that claimed at least 618,000 lives but put an end to slavery. In contrast, modern-day secessionists stress that they advocate a peaceful departure and emphatically dismiss criticism that their organizations embrace racism and white supremacy.
“We maintain an open-door policy,” said Miller, who began forming the Texas Nationalist Movement early in the decade from the remnants of an earlier Texas independence movement. “If you’re about freedom — individual freedom — and liberty and Texas independence, we call you brother or sister.”
Miller says the group includes Hispanics, African-Americans, women, lifelong Democrats and union members. “We don’t argue race; we don’t argue Democrat or Republican,” he said. The movement also “predates Obama,” he said, pointing out that his organization started well before the president took office in January.
Miller, 35, said his involvement comes from a deep-rooted civic responsibility that began when he would accompany his father, a union ironworker, on the picket line. When Miller was 18, he made an unsuccessful run for mayor of White Oak, a small community outside Longview in East Texas. His call for Texas independence, he said, stems from a belief that Washington’s failures are dragging down the Lone Star State. Texas, which outpaces most other states in mineral wealth, agriculture, technology and other sectors, would be far better off as a separate country, he said.
“We currently have one of the strongest economies in the world,” said Miller, a Web-based radio entrepreneur who lives in deep Southeast Texas. “We’ve got everything we need to be, not just a viable nation, but a thriving, prosperous nation, except for one thing — independence from the United States.”
Kilgore, a telecommunications consultant in Mansfield, has made secession a high-profile theme of his Republican campaign for governor. Though overshadowed by the two dominant Republicans in the race — Perry and Hutchison — Kilgore believes his candidacy is stoking interest in secession, and vice versa. He said he gets at least a half-dozen calls and 15 e-mails each day on the issue, in addition to “all kinds of Facebook hits.”
Giving up on feds
“A lot of people have given up on the federal government,” Kilgore said. If he becomes governor, he said, he would call a constitutional convention to create a nation of Texas, with voters asked to approve a constitutional amendment to cement the process. Texas emissaries would negotiate with Washington for separation, he said, predicting that the United States and Texas could “still be friends after we split.”
From his home in Charlotte, Vt., Naylor said he also believes that his small New England state would fare much better outside what he derisively calls the “empire.”
Vermont, which, like Texas, was a republic before achieving statehood, has a population of 625,000, is the nation’s leading supplier of maple syrup and has a vibrant tourism industry. “We would not only survive,” he said, “we would thrive.”
Naylor, who describes himself as “a professional troublemaker,” grew up in Mississippi and taught economics at Duke University in North Carolina for 30 years.
During his years in the South, he said, he was “pretty much a vehement anti-secessionist” and refused to stand whenever Dixie was played. But, after moving to Vermont, he said, he began to rally against the “tyranny” of corporate America and the federal government, although he acknowledges the perceived “absurdity” of tiny Vermont rising up against the most powerful nation in the world.
“The empire has lost its moral authority. It’s unsustainable, ungovernable and unfixable,” he said. “We want out.”
Texas as a nation
After declaring independence from Mexico on March 2, 1836, Texas was an independent republic for nearly a decade before being annexed into the United States in 1845. Now some Texas secessionists believe it’s time for the state to once again become its own country. Here’s a sampling of how a modern-day Republic of Texas would compare with the rest of the world.
With 24.3 million residents, Texas would be the 47th-most-populous nation, between Saudi Arabia (25.7 million) and North Korea (24 million). It would be more populous than Greece, Belgium, Portugal and Israel.
With 261,914 square miles, it would be the 40th-largest country, behind Zambia in East Africa (290,585) and ahead of Myanmar (261,228). It would be larger than Afghanistan, France, Iraq, Germany and Vietnam.
With a gross state product of $1.24 trillion, it would rank 11th or 12th, depending on the survey, behind Canada ($1.56 trillion) and slightly ahead of India ($1.23 trillion). Its economy would be larger than that of Australia, the Netherlands, South Korea, Turkey and Poland. But it would be vastly overshadowed by its huge neighbor, the United States, which has the largest economy in the world, $14.3 trillion.
Environmental groups say Texas’ record of spewing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere makes it one of the world biggest polluters. Texas leads the nation with 10 percent of the total U.S. emissions and would rank seventh in the world if it were its own country, the Environmental Defense Fund said in a 2008 report.
Texas, which leads the nation in executions, would likely rank among the top 10 countries in carrying out capital punishment, joining a list that includes Iran and North Korea. The United States is also on the list, primarily because of executions in Texas. In 2008, Texas carried out 18 of the nation’s 37 executions. According to Amnesty International, the United States ranked fourth in worldwide executions in 2008 but was nowhere close to the top three: China (1,718), Iran (346) and Saudi Arabia (102). North Korea’s Stalinist regime carried out at least 15 known executions, but researchers say the number could be far greater.
How it would fare on its own
Texas, now considered one of the most prosperous states in the country, has a broad-based economy that could make it largely self-sufficient, secession advocates say. Its major products include energy, agriculture, high-tech manufacturing and tourism. Assuming friendly relations, the United States presumably would look to Texas for much of its energy needs, since the Lone Star State leads the nation in production of crude oil, natural gas and wind energy. As part of the Union, it has been the top-exporting state and would continue to ship out chemicals, computers, electronics, machinery, petroleum, coal and transportation equipment. At least one big industry — defense — could suffer if the Pentagon adhered to a rigid “buy American” policy and shunned Texas-made defense products.
Newsroom researcher Cathy Belcher contributed to this report.
Copyright 2009 Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Sources: CIA World Factbook, Texas Almanac, U.S. census, Amnesty International, United Nations
DAVE MONTGOMERY REPORTS FOR THE STAR-TELEGRAM FROM AUSTIN. 512-476-4294