When Thomas Dunne published Don’t Mess with Travis in May — my comedic political novel about a freewheeling Texas governor who becomes fed up with a Constitution-stomping president and decides to secede — I knew I had landed on something relevant. I didn’t know it was this relevant.
As of writing, the Texas petition to peacefully “withdraw” from the United States via the White House’s open petition webpage is up to 62,481 signatures, on its way to tripling the required names needed to trigger a response from the Obama administration. No doubt Texas’s desire to break free is a source of amusement inside a White House that has mastered the art of belittling the opinions of its challengers, but there is one not-so-small problem here: Texas could pull it off.
—Resources. Texas currently sits on one-quarter of the nation’s oil reserves and one-third of the nation’s natural gas reserves. Even more, fully 95% of the country receives its oil and gas courtesy of pipelines that originate within Texas. This is what one might call leverage.
—The Texas Economy. This is well documented but worth repeating. In the last decade, even with the Great Recession, Texas has expanded by one million jobs. One million. That’s more than every other state … combined. Because of its friendly business climate, Texas is home to more Fortune 500 companies than anywhere else. If Texas were its own country, it would have the thirteenth-highest GDP in the world, just behind Canada and Russia. Or think about it this way: For every dollar Texas taxpayers send to Washington, they currently get only about 80 cents back. Theoretically, they could transfer those funds to the state’s coffers and still give every Texan a 20 percent tax cut.
—Utilities. Texas is the only state with its own power grid. Developed over the course of the last 100 years, the Texas grid covers the majority of the state and is fully state controlled. Translation: Texans could rest assured that the federal government doesn’t have the power — literally — to turn off their lights.
—Defense. While no match for Uncle Sam’s firepower, Texas does have a significant defense presence, namely in the Texas State Guard (which answers only to the governor), the Texas National Guard, the Air Guard and the legendary Texas Rangers. Texas is also home to two of the nation’s largest military bases — Fort Hood and Fort Bliss — and being able to control those two installations is nothing to sniff at. But let’s not forget the firepower of the citizenry itself. There’s a reason burglars don’t waste their time in Texas.
—History. Texas has done this before. Twice, actually. First in 1836, when it seceded from Mexico and became an independent country. Second in 1861, when it joined the Confederacy. And while the South did lose the Civil War, it didn’t lose it in Texas. In fact, by the end of 1864, the North didn’t have one square foot of Texas soil under its control despite many attempts. Even a full month after Robert E. Lee surrendered at the Appomattox Court House, Texas was still fighting. Texans love their state and they love a fight. That is a lethal combination.
Still, all of this leads us back to a legal question: Can they do it? Texas lore claims that the permission to secede is woven into the state’s founding documents. Well, yes and no. The Texas Annexation Agreement of 1845 does say that the state has the right to split into as many as five separate states should it so choose — wouldn’t that make Harry Reid’s head spin? — and the Texas Constitution does say that “the maintenance of our free institutions and the perpetuity of the Union depend upon the preservation of the right of local self-government, unimpaired to all the States,” … but there is no get-out-of-jail-free card.
The counterargument, of course, is that Texas doesn’t need to look to its own history. It can look to America’s. After all, didn’t America secede, as it were, from Great Britain? And doesn’t the first line of our own Declaration of Independence defend a people’s God-given right to assume their own “separate and equal station” under the law?
Time to check that petition again.
68,707 … and counting.
Bob Smiley is a TV/film writer and the author of Don’t Mess with Travis, a book that has been heralded as “incisive and derisive,” and “one of the year’s best.” You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that an independent Texas would have the tenth-highest GDP in the world. It would actually have the thirteenth highest.