April 13, 2012
By John Burnett
It's a popular idea in Texas that the Lone Star State — once an independent republic — could break away and go it alone. A few years ago, Texas Gov. Rick Perry hinted that if Washington didn't stop meddling in his state, independence might be an option. In his brief run for the White House, he insisted that nearly anything the feds do, the states — and Texas in particular — could do better.
So we're putting Perry's suggestions to the test — NPR is liberating Texas. We asked scholars, business leaders, diplomats, journalists and regular folk to help us imagine an independent Texas based on current issues before the state. (Though, to be clear, no one quoted here actually favors secession.)
We begin our exercise in Austin, capital of the new Republic of Texas, where the Independence Day party raged until dawn to the music of Austin's own Asleep at the Wheel. Lead singer Ray Benson announced to the crowd, "We have severed the ties with the United States of America. Texas is free!" and the masses roared in response.
The former state has reinvented itself as a sort of Lone Star Singapore, with low taxes, free trade and minimal regulation. It enters the community of nations as the world's 15th-largest economy, with vast oil and gas reserves, busy international ports, an independent power grid and a laissez-faire attitude about making money.
Texas Is 'Open For Business'
The Texas Association of Business advertises the new nation's economic potential with a radio ad that declares, "Texas: Now it is a whole other country — and it's open for business ... C'mon over. Be part of our vibrant free-market nation."
"What we have been able to do since we threw off the yoke of the federal government is create a country that has the assets necessary to build an incredible empire," says Bill Hammond, the association's president.
Imagine airports without the Transportation Security Administration; gun sales without the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives; land development without the Endangered Species Act; new congressional districts without the Voting Rights Act; and a new guest-worker program without Washington gridlock over immigration reform.
Indeed, new immigration laws sailed through the Texas Congress. Immigrant workers are now legally crossing the border to frame houses, mow lawns and clean hotel rooms.
"We now have a safe and secure guest-worker program that allows immigrants to come and go as the jobs ebb and flow, and fill the jobs that Texans are unwilling to do," Hammond says.
The new normal is a leaner government that bears little resemblance to the full-service nation it left behind. The Tea Party faithful who embraced nationhood early on say it's a lot better than being beholden to Chinese bankers.
"What is the Republic of Texas charged with actually doing? [It's] charged with defense, charged with education, charged with a few things that you have to do, and the rest is wide open," says Felicia Cravens, a high school drama teacher active in the Houston Tea Party movement. "Liberty may look like chaos, but to us it's a lot of choices."
Under statehood, the U.S. government contributed 60 percent of all Texas aid to the poor. In an independent republic, federal benefits like food stamps, free school lunches and unemployment compensation would disappear, according to two Dallas Tea Party leaders.
"The nation of Texas is a living experiment into what we call the empowerment society. It is no longer a caretaker society," says Ken Emanuelson, founder of the Grassroots Texans Network.
Texas Tea Party member Katrina Pierson adds, "There's a safety net that's always been out there. We don't have that anymore. You will be a productive member of society and our environment doesn't allow for people to not be productive."
Southern Methodist University political scientist Cal Jillson imagines that low-wage Texas would become a new magnet for assembly plants that might have considered setting up shop in Mexico or Malaysia.
"Since Texas has become independent, we are surprised — and some are pleased — to see that maquiladora [or foreign-owned] plants are springing up on the south side of the Red River and on the Sabine [River]," Jillson says. "The American South is complaining because some plants are moving to Texas."...