Texas already seceded once — in 1861, by popular vote in a statewide election. But the Texas Nationalist Movement wants a repeat a century and a half later, and thinks the March GOP primary is the place to start.
The Nederland-based Texas independence group is circulating a petition aimed at getting a non-binding vote onto the GOP primary ballot over whether "the state of Texas should reassert its status as an independent nation."
Their goal? 75,000 signatures from registered voters by Dec. 1 — more than the 66,894 the Texas Secretary of State's office says the group needs to get the language on the ballot.
Even if the Texas Nationalist Movement gets enough signatures, such a vote would be little more than symbolic. Academics agree that Texas cannot secede from the United States, and point to a post-Civil War Supreme Court ruling, Texas v. White, as evidence.
But that hasn't stopped the Republican Party of Texas from rolling its eyes at the secessionists. Texas GOP communications director Aaron Whitehead said the Republican party certainly doesn't welcome outside groups trying to doctor the party ballot.
“Historically the executive committee of the Republican Party has chosen what goes on this,” Whitehead said, “and it’s party preference that it stays that way.”
The Texas Nationalist Movement, which hasn't yet verified how many signatures it has, doesn't buy the argument that the state can't secede. Daniel Miller, the group's president, points to the state Constitution, and in particular, the provision that gives Texans the right to "alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.”
Miller said the group is going around the state party because past interactions with the GOP weren't fruitful.
“We have had our hand slapped," Miller said. "We have been rebuffed, and not just us as an organization, but essentially anyone in any position inside the party that has advocated for this position has been rebuffed."
Whitehead said there is zero relationship between the GOP and the secessionists, and added that his response to such a ballot proposal would be the same if it were “a resolution giving everybody a unicorn or a resolution for secession.”
If the Texas Nationalist Movement does get the signatures it needs, the Secretary of State's office says it will be the first time a referendum from a citizen group is put on the Republicans’ statewide primary ballot. Miller acknowledges a majority vote for the referendum wouldn't be binding, but hopes it would be enough evidence of support to get state leaders to take the issue seriously long-term.
“The end game for us is to have a binding referendum on Texas independence, much like the people of Scotland had in November of last year,” Miller said.
The 2014 vote over Scottish independence from the United Kingdom failed.
Volunteers from the Texas Nationalist Movement are at work across the state, scurrying to get signatures. Miller is optimistic; he says the organization itself has over 200,000 members.
“Texas and Washington, D.C. are on very different paths, and the people of Texas obviously recognize that,” he said. “... The Texas Nationalist Movement message has been one not of reaction to grievance but one of a future we can build as an independent nation.”