Gov. Rick Perry, right, talks with Michael Quinn Sullivan, left, before speaking during a "Don't Mess With Texas" tea party rally at City Hall Wednesday, April 15, 2009, in Austin, Texas. Sullivan is president of Texans for Fiscal Responsibility.
I’m a big student of Texas history,
and have always been fascinated by the Republic of Texas
and the annexation controversy.
Thus, it was particularly interesting last week to watch the storm of controversy
over Perry’s comments that seemed to invoke secession.
Of course, Perry wasn’t directly advocating that,
which I’ve already explained in my other column .
Most of the outrage was manufactured and fake from the usual partisan suspects. But I thought it kind of amusing that among those weighing in on the matter was Texas Monthly’s Paul Burka , who loudly proclaimed that bringing up secession and independence made Perry look like a kook. It’s like the “S” word was somehow poisonous, racist or hate-filled.
“Our magazine has made a good living out of celebrating the state’s myths, but secession was not, shall we say, a positive event,” Burka wrote.
Of course, the irony is that Burka is straight-up lying.
Maybe his memory doesn’t go back that far, but mine does.
Or at least my archive does, because I was only three and a half years old when this issue last came up.
The January, 1975 issue of Texas Monthly,
in fact, is entirely devoted to the idea of Texas secession .
Under a cover which features a woman’s shapely rear end in Daisy Duke jeans with a patchwork map of the Lone Star State on the hip pocket, Texas Monthly asks “Is Texas too Big for It’s Britches?” On the top bar over the masthead, the magazine asks the provocative question “Is it Time for Texas To Secede from the U.S. Again?”
The entire issue is devoted to a concept that Burka now says shouldn’t even be discussed at all, not even with all of Perry’s caveats and hypotheticals. But apparently, it was not something so abhorrent and repulsive for Texas Monthly to discuss in 1975 – when Texas was still a one-party Democratic state and Republicans had controlled the White House for 14 of the last 22 years . (In fact, having lost a president from the Lone Star State – and the clout that comes with it – Texas was in a position not too far different from where it is today.)
Evidently, back then, that loaded buzzword “secession” didn’t have all the evil and racist connotations that the sage of the lone star magazine world seems to think it does today.
Burka should know this. After all, in 1975, he was on the Texas Monthly staff as one of the magazine’s five Senior Editors.
Texas Monthly contemplates the evil “S” word, January 1975
“It’s time for the Largest Fully Thawed State to start looking over its options – boldly, brashly, narrow-eyed, like W.C. Fields with a pair of aces,” Texas Monthly, 1975, declares. “Should Texas take advantage of a controversial, 130-year-old law and divide itself into five states, marching in quintuplicate on the Potomac? Or just go it alone as an independent country, leaving a choice spot on Massachusetts Avenue for an Astrodome-shaped Embassy?”
“Independence?” the unsigned lead article asks. “Not secession, mind you, just good old hard-earned sovereignty. Battled for at Goliad, won at San Jacinto...and...well...never really relinquished after all. Not such a bad idea, independence; not half bad...”
Texas Monthly, circa 1975 continues:
“Economically, an independent Texas would have a lot going for it, as the following tables show. (Figures for the United States have been adjusted to exclude Texas). The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) would have a new face at its next summit meeting: President Dolph Briscoe.”
Breaking Up is Hard to Do...But Not a New Idea
If secession is a bit extreme, the pinnacle of Texas journalism asks, then there is another option: “Divide and Conquer.” This would be to take advantage of Texas’ right to divide into at least five separate states.
Paul Burka, 2009 seems to think that this kind of talk is the purview of radical Republicans only, but a Texas Monthly reporter from 1975 gets the idea straight from the lips of Bob Gammage, a freshman Democratic State Representative from Houston. Gammage later became a Texas State Senator, U.S. Congressman and Texas Supreme Court Justice. In 2006, this obvious radical came in second in the Democratic Gubernatorial Primary after Chris Bell.
“The strongest argument in favor of it in my mind,” says Gammage, “is that it would give us a great deal more clout on the national scene. We would automatically increase from two to ten U.S. senators.”
In fact, Gammage was considering sponsoring legislation to that effect, along with then-Rep. Dan Kubiak (D-Cameron), another apparent radical who Texas Monthly called “the best educated education chairman in modern time.”
But the idea was even older than that, and the Texas Monthly article discusses the many notable Texans who considered it over the years, including the clearly radical and inflammatory John Nance Garner, who served in the U.S. House of Representatives and then as Vice President of the United States under Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Garner, of course, was also a Democrat.
An Idea Who’s Time Has Come?
Texas Monthly spent a lot of ink – 11 pages (which probably amounted to all the space available outside of advertising) – on the division idea. So let’s look at their plan and see what it holds for Texas.
The scheme – as is to be expected from conservative Democrats – wasn’t big on the idea government being made from big, elitist cities. It involved dividing Texas into five states:
* North Texas, with a capitol in Waxahachie.
* South Texas, with a capitol in Gonzales.
* East Texas, with a capitol in Richmond.
* West Texas, with a capitol in Marfa.
* Central Texas, with a capitol in Lockhart.
The clear result of this breakup would be 10 United States Senators for Texas, instead of two, which would greatly improve our national clout, as Gammage said. Of course, when Texas Monthly wrote about the plan, that strange Republican anomaly, U.S. Senator John Tower, was not expected to last long, and a return to complete Democratic dominance was expected.
Texas in 2009 is a different story, and while the state became a majority Republican one after the old-school conservative Democratic Party collapsed and was replaced with a liberal one, the GOP doesn’t have near the dominance that the Democrats used to have. So in order for this to work, the GOP has to throw a few bones across the aisle.
The best way to do this is to use the 1975 Texas Monthly lines, which would likely result in six GOP Senators – North, East and West – and two to four Democratic Senators. The Dems would certainly have two in South Texas. Central Texas would lean slightly Democratic because of Austin, but could conceivably break either way with competitive elections.
There’s something in this for everyone. Democrats would at least be in the running in any of the districts except West Texas, and the plan would virtually guarantee two Hispanics at least in the U.S. Senate in perpetuity. What proud Tejano could argue with that? Draw East Texas right and you could get a black senator or two as well.