"If I owned Texas and hell, I'd rent out Texas and live in hell." - U.S. Gen. Phillip Sheridan, 1866
When they held their constitutional convention in a cotton gin on the edge of the Texas Hill Country, they seemed a merry band of pranksters. The Republic of Texas Militia, which became a movement in the state during the mid '90s, had decided the state was not a part of the union. The fuzzy-haired leader of the organization, Rick McLaren, had studied the state's constitution and was convinced that the legislature had not ever taken the appropriate votes to rejoin the United States after the Civil War.
McLaren was an intelligent man and was capable of endlessly debating law. There was no charisma to his leadership of the group but his fire kept inspiring fringe characters to join the ROT organization. When the separatist group got a permit to march on the state capitol, McLaren stood on the steps and declared the independence of Texas.
"We don't have to put up with Washington," he said to about 50 followers and a few reporters. "We aren't part of the United States. We haven't been since the beginning of the Civil War. Why should we pay taxes? Look at what Washington is doing with our money and how they are meddling in our lives and we don't even belong."
Although the language is a little different the message and the rhetoric coming from the current governor of Texas is essentially the same as delivered by a man who led his tiny militia to the mountains of West Texas and bought a run-down trailer to establish a Republic of Texas Embassy. McLaren was willing to begin diplomatic relations between the ROT's new government and the U.S. Whenever I went to interview McLaren and keep track of his legal tricks and size up his politics, we sat on a rock outside his embassy. On the ridgeline above and in the trees I saw men patrolling with high-powered rifles and I kept reminding myself to make no sudden moves toward the leader of the ROT.
Nothing good was going to transpire. McLaren became more fervent. He declared the government in Austin defunct because it was established under state charter and Texas was a republic, in his analysis, and not a state. His embassy was the new location of the Texas Federal government. Eventually, he made even more absurdist statements that began to threaten other residents in the Davis Mountain Ranch and the Department of Public Safety was dispatched to reduce McLaren to custody. He did, however, have guns, and a week-long standoff ensued, which ended with a shootout that took the life of one of McLaren's "soldiers." As DPS officers closed in on his embassy, I heard McLaren calling out on the short wave radio, "Nations of the world, mayday, mayday, mayday; this is the Republic of Texas calling for all due military assistance to protect our sovereignty." He lived his fantasy to the end but his inglorious accomplishment turned out to be a life sentence in a federal prison.
McLaren's misadventure began with the same hysteria that Texas Governor Rick Perry has been stirring. Perry blatantly suggested during the Fox News National Tea-Bagging Festival that Texans are about ready to leave the union because they are sick of Washington. In one cartoonish moment, the Republican standard bearer in this state insulted our entire democracy and every man or woman from Texas who has served under the Stars and Stripes. What is it they fought and died for governor? Was it so you could leave the union when people who had different politics than you were in the majority? I think we had that horror already in our history and, if you read when you were growing up out in Paint Rock, you would know that it was called the Civil War.
If a governor of a Democratic state had suggested such a thing during the administration of the previous president then you and every Republican in the land would have been demanding he or she be tried for treason. Suddenly, you fancy yourself a folk hero leading a band of revolutionaries. Turn around for a minute, pull back the hair from your forehead, and take a good look at who's following you. They are the 2009 version of Rick McLaren's wingnuts.
When Perry finally tempered his remarks there was a naked political motive. The state is in line for $17 billion from the Stimulus Bill. God knows that after six years of B**h and going on nine of Perry that the money is sorely needed for a state increasingly in disrepair. Eliot Shapleigh, a state senator from El Paso, compiles a report each legislative session called "Texas on the Brink." Skimming it will provide more than enough data to show just how functional the Republican leadership of this state has been since 1994. Here are a few embarrassing tidbits about Texas that Rick Perry doesn't want the rest of the nation to know so he can start planning his little fantasy of national politics.
1) 49th in teacher pay
2) 1st in the percentage of people over 25 without a high school diploma
3) 41st in high school graduation rate
4) 46th in SAT scores
5) 1st in percentage of uninsured children
6) 1st in percentage of population uninsured
7) 1st in percentage of non-elderly uninsured
8) 3rd in percentage of people living below the poverty level
9) 49th in average Women Infant and Children benefit payments
10) 1st in teenage birth rate
11) 50th in average credit scores for loan applicants
12) 1st in air pollution emissions
13) 1st in volume of volatile organic compounds released into the air
14) 1st in amount of toxic chemicals released into water
15) 1st in amount of recognized cancer-causing carcinogens released into air
16) 1st in amount of carbon dioxide emissions
17) 50th in homeowners' insurance affordability
18) 50th in percentage of voting age population that votes
19) 1st in annual number of executions
Shapleigh's little book of horrors comes fully footnoted to avoid being attacked by partisans. His staff gathers data from the Census Bureau and Texas government agencies. One assumes they then go out and get deeply, profoundly intoxicated to deal with their sense of hopelessness. In many categories, we are no longer ahead of poor Mississippi. This, then, America, is what Texans have acquired after 15 years of Republican guidance from B**h and Rick Perry. You want some of this? Didn't you just get a big overdose?
There is little doubt that Perry is serious about seceding from the union. My guess is he's grown tired of fighting it out for last place with Mississippi.
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