You have to make the legal point at the outset: It is not possible for a state to secede from the union just by asking. You can file as many petitions as you like, but you can’t get out. When this or any state asked to join the union, and permission was granted, it became a permanent contract, unbreakable unilaterally. That was the understanding among many framers of the Constitution, according to scholars. If you were asleep in your junior high history class, you should be told that we fought a fairly significant war to settle the issue. There’s even a Supreme Court ruling, from 1868, that says the union of states is “indestructible.”
Maybe, if the other states want you out, that’s a different matter. But generally, those of you who dream of a new Republic of (insert state here) are fooling yourselves. Which makes the talk lately about secession just fun, or stupid. What should trouble us is there really are people who think their state’s separation is not only possible, but a really good idea. There have always been these people, on left and right, one side getting more attention depending on who won the last election and who is eating the sour grapes.
Since President Obama won the election (fair and square, I might add), the secession talk is loudest in states that liked him least. Texas is most prominent, as usual, with secession petitions drawing signatures in the tens of thousands, political action committees formed to collect money from supporters of ludicrous causes, and a large market for bumper stickers created. The White House has facilitated the tittering with its “We The People” website, where anybody can create a petition on anything to be signed by anybody. If your petition gets 25,000 signatures in 30 days it will receive an official response from the White House. Some petitions deal with serious issues, and many do not. Among the recent official responses is the release of the ingredients for the president’s home brew, White House Honey Ale. You have a First Amendment right to petition the government for redress of grievances and beer recipes.
The White House petition-for-anything site has secession requests from 50 states. There are two for Washington. One was originated by someone named Dannah P of East Wenatchee, with 4,593 signatures as of this morning. It quotes the opening paragraphs of the Declaration of Independence, as many petitions do. It is going nowhere.
We’ve dealt with secessionitis before. Prior to the election, when the polls showed a chance for a Republican victory, the talk came more from the left. Knute Berger at Crosscut speculated on the topic in October, wondering if a Mitt Romney victory might promote the separation of Cascadia, roughly defined as Washington, Oregon, parts of British Columbia and the cool looking, unpotatoed parts of Idaho. This “bioregion” could form an “ecotopia,” or so the thinking goes. Portland and Seattle eco-dreamers have been musing about it for some time. They even have a flag, green and blue with a tree, called “Old Doug,” which is not old but can be waved at soccer matches.
There are some acknowledged problems with Cascadia concept, notably that most of Cascadia probably doesn’t want anything to do with it, or that the United States owns a good share of the land and electric generating facilities, which it will be unlikely to contribute to the new bioregional government. Then there are economic concerns, as in kiss Boeing goodbye, etc. Cascadia could be powerless, penniless and pointless.
Practical considerations never stopped the secessionists. Our own Sen. Bob Morton enjoyed filing legislation seeking to separate Eastern Washington from west, or form a new state from eastern Washington and Oregon and northern Idaho. It would been one of the poorest states in the union, but secession is sure fun to talk about.
Tracy Warner’s column appears Thursdays and Fridays. He can be reached at email@example.com or 665-1163.