Last week, the Texas Nationalist Movement (TNM), the group at the tip of the proverbial spear for the state’s disannexation, hosted a gubernatorial forum. Three of the four GOP primary candidates — former Texas GOP Chair Allen West, former state Sen. Don Huffines, and BlazeTV Host Chad Prather — joined the forum. The only absence was Governor Greg Abbott, whom the group invited but declined.
While Texas independence is far from becoming a feature of the race, it’s not an afterthought, either. Not only was the question posed to the candidates during the TNM forum, but also at a Wise County forum in late October.
Earlier this year, legislation was filed by Rep. Kyle Biedermann (R-Fredericksburg), who has endorsed West in the race, to place a secession referendum on the ballot. It made no progress legislatively, but drummed up more than its fair share of attention.
There’s a dearth of recent polling on the question of Texas independence, firms and outlets preferring instead to tie the question to separation from the current inhabitant of the White House. A December 2020 poll by Victory Insights found that over half of Texas Republican voters polled supported leaving the union “if a Biden-Harris Presidency is otherwise unavoidable.”
But the debate over such a maneuver precedes each of the recent presidents and will continue long after each has left office.
The history of Texas’ entry into the union is not so straightforward. Voters supported annexation to the United States after the fledgling country won its independence from Mexico in 1836. But in its decade of sovereignty, no treaty for annexation was approved by both countries. The 1844 iteration of an annexation treaty said nothing of the ability for Texas to secede later if it so chose.
Texans again approved an ordinance to join the U.S. in an 1845 referendum and that then became a joint resolution passed by Congress — neither of which mentioned disannexation. In fact, because no treaty was approved, Congress placed initiative over the annexation with the U.S. president. The annexation’s constitutionality itself, as well as its inverse, is debated.
An 1869 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Texas v. White, a case directly about the levying of bonds and indirectly about secession, ruled that states had no right to secede. Both the radical Republicans of the north and the secessionist Democrats of the south found themselves united in antipathy toward the decision, but for different reasons.
During the Tea Party wave, the topic bubbled up again when some in a crowd of protestors shouted “secede” while then-Governor Rick Perry was harping on the federal government’s excesses. Perry did not acknowledge the shout from the crowd during the speech, but later told a reporter offstage, “When we came in the union in 1845, one of the issues was that we would be able to leave if we decided to do that.”
“My hope is that America and Washington in particular pays attention. 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, who knows what may come out of that?”
Perry eventually sided firmly against disannexation when the topic came up during his 2012 presidential bid.
Perry’s claim that Texas reserved its right to leave the union as an explicit part of the annexation agreement is inaccurate. However, it also didn’t prohibit the move like Nevada would do in its constitution 20 years after Texas joined the union.
While some argue the question of secession was settled on the battlefields of Antietam and Gettysburg, others argue a right to leave predates Texas itself.
“To say that states gave up their right to secede when they ratified the Constitution is to not understand the founders as they understood themselves,” Scott said. “Secession is about self-determination; it is the ultimate weapon against tyrannical government.”
“A people unable to dissolve political bonds are a people who no longer have the ability to preserve the rights endowed to them by their Creator but have instead given all authority to some distant governing body. This would be antithetical to every precedent-setting document one could read at the time of the founding.”
“[A]ny question of self-determination is political in nature,” says TNM on its website. “It is not, and never will be, a judicial question.” It also points to Article 1, Section 2 of the Texas Constitution which derives all political authority from the people, adding that “they have at all times the inalienable right to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.”
Daniel Miller, president of the TNM, embarked on the path toward the organization’s founding in 1996 during the doldrums of the Clinton years. To that point, he described himself as a “dyed in the wool, red, white, and blue” guy.
Actions by the federal government during this period caused him to evaluate disannexations abroad. “If you don’t want the federal government trampling on your rights and encroaching on the sovereignty of a state or trampling over its right of local government, then you have to eliminate the federal government from the equation,” Miller told The Texan in an interview.
One book released around the turn of the century, “Global Paradox” by John Naisbitt, especially turned Miller’s opinion on the issue.
The thesis of Naisbitt’s book is that the technological revolution, specifically in communications, increased economic interdependence of countries globally, colloquially called “globalism,” but also opened a new door for the political independence of nations.
The fall of the Soviet Union ushered in a slew of disannexations, but that isn’t the origin of the entire trend. As the sunset fell on VJ-day in 1945, there were about 50 internationally recognized countries. Today, that number is 195.
More recently, Brexit stole the global spotlight in 2016 when the United Kingdom (UK) voted to leave the European Union. The Scottish National Party, which took control of its parliament during this year’s elections, will move forward with an independence referendum from the UK in 2023. It lost a similar referendum in 2014 by a wide margin but has since gained enough ground to control parliament.
Another is the burgeoning movement within Catalonia to split from Spain.
Miller points to these and other examples, such as the 2011 split of the Sudan and South Sudan into two countries, as lodestars for a prospective Texas independence.
When TNM started, Miller said, polled support for Texas independence was in the single digits.
A 2014 Reuters Ipsos poll done nationally on the question of states seceding from the union showed a far brighter outlook in Miller’s eyes. Having gotten ahold of the poll’s crosstabs and separated out the Texas data, Miller said it showed 54 percent of Republicans, 50 percent of Independents, and 35 percent of Democrats supported Texas disannexation.
Internal polling, Miller added, “shows that if we go to the polls today, [TEXIT] wins by probably 15 to 20 percentage points.”
Miller — who is currently primarying Lt. Governor Dan Patrick on top of his TEXIT lobbying effort — then pointed to more anecdotal evidence of the issue catching on politically, chiefly that all three of Abbott’s GOP challengers have signed TNM’s petition to put it on the ballot.
“We’re seeing elected officials having to comment on it and we’re seeing Texas voters use that response as a voting issue — TEXIT is now a voting issue for many Texas voters,” he added.
But Texas requires action from the legislature for TEXIT to make the ballot. Beyond Biedermann, Miller named a cluster of other members supportive of the TEXIT bill, but it remains a far cry from the numbers necessary to pass legislation in the often chaotic lower chamber — let alone the upper chamber controlled tightly by the lt. governor.
Miller chalked the legislative opposition up to “a whole pack of legislators up there that are not responsive to the will of their constituents.”
During their forum, none of the three candidates were as enthusiastic about Texas secession as were the TNM members. But each voiced support for a vote while also advocating a concerted refocus on the 10th Amendment to reassert the state’s authority over itself and push back against what they see as a continuous unlawful breach of the federal government’s enumerated powers.
Prather was the most assertive on the issue, adding that he’d vote in favor of TEXIT and advocate on its behalf.
Rep. Jeff Leach (R-Plano), who did not return an interview request but denounced those stances last month after the Wise County forum, said on Twitter, “Disqualifying for all of them.”
“The correct answer is for Texas to assert itself — not retreat. America is worth fighting for. And it’s sad they didn’t say so.”
The broad disregard and public disapproval of the issue by many public officials shows the kind of uphill climb TNM faces.
In a 2013 closed-door meeting, Miller said former Lt. Governor David Dewhurst expressed support for his cause. A statement from Dewhurst’s office at the time confirmed the meeting but stopped short of an endorsement, saying, “As a proud veteran, Lt. Governor Dewhurst believes we should do everything in our power to preserve and protect our Union and the founding principles on which it was formed.”
Whether Texas can secede and whether it should secede are, of course, two entirely different questions.
TNM has a Frequently Asked Questions section of its website dedicated to addressing the various concerns about Texas independence ranging from economics to geopolitics. Regardless, a prospective TEXIT would be a complicated and messy affair and as Brexit showed, the referendum itself is only the first step.
But being the first step, the rest cannot happen without it and thus a hypothetical referendum campaign must be bookended by successful lobbying efforts of the state government.
One public relations hurdle for the TEXIT campaign is the association of secession, disannexation, or whichever term is preferred with what caused the 19th century’s secession: slavery.
“Last I checked my calendar, we’re living in the 21st century, not the 19th,” Miller said. “The world has continued to turn since the 1860s and things have moved forward particularly on the issue of self-determination.”
Pointing to the Sudan breakup, Miller added, “One thing we’ve seen is that movements for self-government are not the cause of violence or civil war, but actually the solution to it and a mechanism to avoid that sort of thing.”
While still a longshot, Texas seems more capable than any other state to pull off independence. Miller said, “In the spirit of Texas there is an independent streak. That runs all the way back to 1835. You know, back to that battle of Gonzales when we hoisted the ‘Come and Take It’ flag.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that if push came to shove, voters would back disannexation. The law of unintended consequences would hit home, and likely hit hard. But TNM and their supporters believe it’d be a net positive for the Lone Star State to cast back off on its own.
And despite having the reputation among some as a political third rail and progenitor of kookery, the issue has remarkable staying power in the mantle of Texas’ political discourse.
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Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.