State GOP leaders, in a predictable but closely watched vote, have defeated a proposal to ask Texas voters whether they favor secession.
In a voice vote Saturday afternoon, the State Republican Executive Committee rejected a measure that would have put the issue on the March 1 primary ballot. The ballot language would have been non-binding, amounting to a formal survey of voters on whether they would like to see Texas declare its independence from the United States.
While the proposal's defeat was expected, the measure had sparked some heated debate on the 60-member executive committee, the governing body of the Republican Party of Texas. Seeking to avoid a protracted fight, the executive committee voted earlier Saturday afternoon to cap discussion of the issue at 30 minutes then put it to an up-or-down vote.
Tanya Robertson, the SREC member who introduced the proposal, argued at the executive committee meeting in Austin that the measure would have been "harmless," allowing voters to register an "opinion only." She also suggested the ballot language would have helped "get out the vote" among some Texas Republicans who have been sitting out recent elections.
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"The goal of these is to take a thermometer of how Texans feels about an issue, and what better issue for Texans to do that with?" she asked.
Opponents of the proposal argued it would have been an unproductive way for Texans to register their dissatisfaction with the federal government, however strongly they feel. One of the opponents, SREC member Mike Goldman, said he was "sorry we are even having the conversation" about secession.
The pro-secession measure was sent to the full body on Friday after approval by its Resolutions Committee. The ballot language before the executive committee Saturday afternoon read, "If the Federal Government continues to disregard the Constitution and the sovereignty of the State of Texas, the State of Texas should reassert its prior status as an independent nation."
Calling it "unpatriotic," the Texas Democratic Party had seized on the secession debate as evidence that the state GOP was falling victim to extremists in its own ranks.
"Every hardworking Texan should be worried that fringe issues are now the hot topic in the same party that controls state government," Crystal Kay Perkins, the executive director of the Texas Democratic Party, said in a statement after the vote Saturday.
Earlier Saturday, the executive committee defeated another controversial proposal, one in favor of moving the party's 2016 convention from Dallas to Houston. The proposal, which was shot down in a nearly unanimous vote, was inspired by opposition to Dallas' updated non-discrimination ordinance. Leading the charge to relocate the convention was Jared Woodfill, a key figure in the successful effort to repeal a similar law in Houston and a potential challenger to Texas GOP Chairman Tom Mechler.