WASHINGTON, November 26 (By Carl Schreck for RIA Novosti) – Larry Scott Kilgore wants to make sure voters know he’s serious about independence for Texas when he runs for governor in 2014.
“I’m changing my middle name to ‘SECEDE’,” Kilgore, a vocal and colorful advocate for Texas’ withdrawal from the United States, told RIA Novosti Monday. He stressed that the new name would be written entirely in capital letters.
“When people go into the voting booth and see ‘SECEDE,’ they’ll know exactly what the candidate believes in,” he said in a telephone interview.
Wariness of central authority has long been a feature of the US national psyche and secessionist roots run deep in Texas in particular.
But since President Barack Obama’s reelection earlier this month, hundreds of thousands of Americans across the nation have shifted from thought to deed and have signed formal petitions asking the White House to allow their respective states to withdraw from the union.
As of Monday, citizens from all 50 states had submitted petitions to the White House website requesting Washington’s permission to secede from the United States. The Texas petition had garnered far more signatures than any other initiative, totaling more than 117,000.
The motivations for seeking secession vary. But many of the petitions sent to the White House since Obama’s reelection portray the federal government as an overreaching and oppressive behemoth, dictating its will to defenseless states.
Outgoing Republican Congressman Ron Paul of Texas last week called secession a “deeply American principle,” accusing the federal government of overreach on a range of issues, including medical marijuana and Obama’s contentious federal health care reform law.
“If a people cannot secede from an oppressive government, they cannot truly be considered free,” Paul wrote.
The petitions come at a time of deep political polarization in the United States—a trend that has surged during the presidencies of Obama and his predecessor, George W. Bush, according to public opinion polls.
They have also prompted discussion about the possibility that the United States might break apart into a collection of sovereign states, much like the disintegration of the Soviet Union two decades ago.
But political scientists, constitutional scholars, and even US Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia—a conservative firebrand sympathetic to states’ rights—describe these secessionist bids as little more than quixotic political bluster.
The US Civil War, which ended almost 150 years ago, resulted in defeat for southern states seeking secession, and their readmission to the union came with certain conditions, said Gerald Treece, a constitutional scholar at South Texas College of Law in Houston, Texas.
“Those conditions mean they have to stick with this union unless Congress lets them go,” Treece told RIA Novosti. “I would think that’s not going to happen.”
In 2006, an American screenwriter managed to get a comment from Scalia on the legitimacy of secessionist movements by writing him for advice on a film script about an independence drive by the northeastern state of Maine.
The answer is clear, Scalia is said to have responded.
“If there was any constitutional issue resolved by the Civil War, it is that there is no right to secede,” the Supreme Court justice reportedly wrote.
To be sure, there are legal scholars who disagree with Scalia’s blanket dismissal of secession.
Eugene Volokh, a Soviet-born expert on the US Constitution at UCLA Law School, said that while the current talk of separatism is “just empty posturing,” secession is possible if both the state seeking withdrawal and the rest of the country are on board with the idea.
“If a state says we want to secede, and the rest of the country says, ‘Be our guest,’ it’s perfectly permissible,” Volokh said. “… It’s just politically extremely unlikely.”
Secessionist sentiment in America in recent years appears to be linked to the country’s highly polarized politics, said Jason Sorens, a political scientist at the University of Buffalo.
Support for secession in the United States depends on who is in power at the federal level, said Sorens, who has studied secessionist movements. Unlike secessionist movements in Scotland or Catalonia, separatist sentiment in the United States does not transcend ideological and political divisions.
“It varies with the political cycle,” he said. “When there’s a Democratic president, Republicans are more likely to favor secession. When a Republican is in power, it’s the opposite.”
Even if the Congress and the White House all signed off on a state’s secession, the sponsors of these petitions may not be properly thinking through the amount of resources their respective states receive from Washington, said Treece, the constitutional scholar at South Texas College of Law.
These include social programs like Social Security and Medicare, he added.
“It’s interesting barroom talk, but it’s not well-informed,” Treece said.
Kilgore, the aspiring governor who plans to liberate Texas from Washington’s shackles, said he’s unconcerned about reconciling the state’s books with the federal government in a secession scenario.
“I’m sure that we can negotiate with the United States a fair settlement of liability and assets,” said Kilgore, adding that he does not “even see the possibility” of a military confrontation with the federal government over the issue.
Indeed, Kilgore’s campaign doesn’t appear to be about the details—at least not yet. His website says: “Secession! All other issues can be dealt with later.”