Having lived here in the Lone Star state all my life, I’m used to hearing my fellow Texans grumble about Washington. Hang out at any coffee shop or bar in my hometown of Fort Worth, and you’re likely to hear G-ddamn federal gub’mint! followed by complaints about taxes, spending, regulations, school prayer, and outsiders tryin’ to run our lives. I don’t share these views, but I’ve learned to accept the griping as just part of the Texas wallpaper.
But that didn’t prepare me for the full-throated, red-faced vitriol at last night’s debate over secession at the Texas GOP Convention. During an hour-long fight in the middle of the Friday platform vote, secession advocates tried to force back into the platform language that party leaders had dropped the previous night. “The federal government has impaired our right of local self-government,” the proposal claimed, setting up the potential for a statewide vote so that Texas could reassert its right to return to its original status as an independent nation.
What ensued was an unruly battle of words — punctuated by boos, cheers, and applause — between secession advocates and opponents, while mild-mannered state GOP chair Tom Mechler struggled to keep order.
Abortion came up repeatedly on the pro-secession side. One speaker claimed that the federal government has buried “states’ rights at the bottom of a landfill” under “the bodies of murdered babies,” to vigorous applause. Another proponent cited the current anti-transgender bathroom battle: Washington, she said, will “allow pervert men into women’s bathrooms.”
She went on, to wild applause: “Who better to represent the will of Texas than Texas? I say secede now.”
But for all the secession advocates, there were just as many opponents. One speaker cited his years of military service and said he didn’t want to see the country he was proud to defend be broken up. Another asked the audience if they’d forgotten that just a little earlier they’d recited the U.S. Pledge of Allegiance. Another speaker gave more practical arguments: If Texas Republicans say the state should secede, “it makes a joke of our principles,” he said. “Our goal is to restore the country,” he went on. “I’m an American first” — here he was interrupted by loud boos, so he shouted louder — “and I want to restore those [conservative] principles to the country.”
During all this, a man sitting nearby — tall, clean-cut, dressed in a brown suit and cowboy boots — turned to me, grinned, and shook his head, as if to say, “What a mess.” I smiled and nodded. But then he leaned in and confided to me that the only solution to the current situation is for Texas to threaten to secede. Then, he said, glancing at my media badge, maybe Washington will take us seriously and start cleaning up its act. I just smiled and listened.
The debate dragged on — and the delegates still had to approve the rest of the 26-page platform document. After much parliamentary wrangling and motions and counter-motions, the delegates voted to approve language about the federal government’s having “impaired our right of local self-government,” but voted down the language on Texas secession. More loud boos and grumbling from the secession crowd — but the convention moved to the rest of the platform. By then there was little time left to discuss the other planks, so a motion to move to the vote was passed — though, again, boos and catcalls erupted across the room.
Finally, just a half-hour before the session was scheduled to end, the hall was closed for the vote, and the parliamentarian announced that no one was to enter or exit. The room quieted down as delegates began coloring in the bubbles on Scantron-style grading sheets.
And then it hit me: Good God, I’m trapped in a room, surrounded by folks who just seriously considered the idea of secession. I made it out in one piece, and the state GOP platform survived a hostile takeover, but it was a pretty close call.
[Follow live updates from the 2016 Republican Party of Texas convention here.]