Texas Won't Secede — But It Won't Shut Up Either

A coalition of Tea Party groups rally against President Obama on Jan. 16, 2009, at the Texas Capitol.
A coalition of Tea Party groups rally against President Obama on Jan. 16, 2009, at the Texas Capitol.

Texas seceded from the Union 150 years ago this month. It turned out to be a remarkably unprofitable idea.

It’s not a red-letter date, although Confederate Heroes Day (Jan. 19) is still on the books. Excepting historians and other nerds, the anniversary of the state’s decision to quit the Union generally goes unnoticed.

Most people think secession would be a pretty rotten idea now, but it still comes up sometimes. In April 2009, Gov. Rick Perry popped off about it at a Tea Party Tax Day rally where some in the crowd shouted “secede.”

After his speech, Perry told reporters that there are times when Texans might want to secede but that he didn’t endorse the idea.

“There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry told The Associated Press. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But 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.”

 

Texas retained the right, when it joined the Union, to split into as many as five states, but actually seceding? That was settled by the Civil War. After Perry’s early flirtation with the Tea Party, he has stayed out of secession conversations with reporters, toning down his rhetoric after a wave of national news and news jabber.

But the germ of the idea remained, growing into the anti-federalist talking points that fueled Perry’s re-election campaign last year and provided the outline for his book, Fed Up!

The governor will make his State of the State speech to the Legislature next week, and it’s likely to be a central theme.

It’s in the fight over federal health care reform and what it does and doesn’t require of state government and Texas taxpayers and insurance customers. Texas is among the states that won a round against “Obamacare” in Florida federal court this week. The issue was featured in Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst’s re-election ads. Attorney General Greg Abbott has been outspoken on both the political and legal fronts.

They’re not leaving home, just yelling at their parents.

It’s in the fight over who should regulate the state’s environment, the subject of another lawsuit the state has filed over the Environmental Protection Agency’s moves into regulatory territory that it had delegated to the state, in North Texas gas fields, in industrial areas in the Houston region, in definitions and rules about greenhouse gases. That one is spun as a battle between economic development and careful flexibility on the state’s part versus overreaching federal environmental regulators who don’t even follow their own rules. The EPA jumped in strong, its supporters say, because the state put a little too much emphasis on encouraging business and too little on regulating air and water.

You would think they had ordered the state to clean up its room.

It’s in the conversation here and elsewhere in the U.S. about Medicaid and how much leeway the federal government should allow along with all of the money it provides for that program, about the strings attached to other federal money — like the requirements Texas refused to adopt for its unemployment insurance program in 2009, forfeiting $556 million, or the state’s decision against applying for $700 million in federal Race to the Top money for education.

Medicaid’s the one to watch here. State officials would like to have the money with more flexibility — Perry has talked for a while about turning it into block grants with fewer rules. It’s a cost runaway that could bust the budget, which gives teeth to the argument for forbearance. He’s talked to other governors, including Jerry Brown, Democrat of California, to enlist them in the cause.

The state’s independent streak doesn’t go all the way, as it did (and for vastly different reasons) 150 years ago. One problem for writers of the state’s next budget is that they used one-time federal stimulus money for ongoing expenses in the current budget. The plug is gone, but the hole it filled remains. And while the state can yell, it can’t afford to go it alone. The Texas government will get almost 40 percent of its money from the federal government over the next two years — $70.2 billion, against a total of $177.8 billion, according to the state comptroller.

This isn’t a war. It’s just a rebellion.

 

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