ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
And I'm Audie Cornish.
If you drive around Texas, it's not uncommon to spot bumper stickers that read: Texas Secede. A few years ago, Governor Rick Perry hinted that independence might be an option if Washington didn't stop meddling in his state. In his brief presidential run, Perry maintained that nearly anything the feds do, Texas can do better.
GOVERNOR RICK PERRY: Texans know how to run Texas.
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SIEGEL: For the next eight minutes or so, NPR is going to take the ultimate journey into states' rights.
CORNISH: Yup, we're going to liberate Texas.
SIEGEL: We asked scholars, business leaders, diplomats and regular folk to help us create this simulation.
CORNISH: And we should add no one quoted here actually favors secession.
SIEGEL: Here's our Austin-based correspondent John Burnett, who has this made-up scenario of an independent Texas based on real political sentiments.
JOHN BURNETT, BYLINE: For the second time in 176 years, Texas is a sovereign nation. The Independence Day party in Austin went on till dawn with Ray Benson and Asleep at the Wheel.
RAY BENSON: Ladies and gentleman, today we celebrate a grand day in the history of Texas. We are once again our own country, and we have severed the ties with the United States of America. Texas is free.
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BURNETT: The new Republic of Texas 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.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Texas, now it is a whole other country. And it's open for business with a world-class seaport, a dollarized economy, low tariffs and that famous Texas hospitality. Come on over, be part of our vibrant, free-market nation. Contact the Texas National Association of Business today.
BILL HAMMOND: I'm Bill Hammond, president of the Texas National Association of Business. 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.
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BURNETT: Here's our scenario: airports without the TSA, gun sales without the ATF, 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.
The new normal is a leaner government that bears little resemblance to the full-service nation it left behind. But that's better than being beholden to Chinese bankers, say the Tea Party faithful who embraced our vision of a new nation.
Felicia Cravens is a high school drama teacher active in the Houston Tea Party movement.
FELICIA CRAVEN: What is the Republic of Texas charged with actually doing? Charged with defense, charged with education, charged with a few things that we have to do, and the rest is wide open. Liberty may look like chaos, but to us, it's a lot of choices.
BURNETT: Federal anti-poverty benefits, such as food stamps, free school lunches, and unemployment compensation would disappear. And good riddance, say Dallas Tea Party leaders Ken Emanuelson and Katrina Pierson.
KEN EMANUELSON: The nation of Texas is a living experiment into what we call the empowerment society. It is no longer a caretaker society.
KATRINA PIERSON: Yeah, 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.
BURNETT: In his simulation of nationhood, SMU political scientist Cal Jillson imagines that low-wage Texas would become the new magnet for assembly plants that might have considered Mexico or Malaysia.
CAL JILLSON: Since Texas has become independent, we are surprised and some are pleased to see that maquiladora plants are springing up on the south side of the Red River and on the Sabine. The American South is complaining because some plants are moving to Texas.
BURNETT: With independence, the epic battles between the state of Texas and the EPA over refineries and coal-fired power plants would finally be over. Our business experts say the new republic would rely on voluntary pollution controls, with minimal oversight, a boon to the industrial sector. But how would that go over with residents of refinery towns who have to breathe where they live?
HILTON KELLEY: My name is Hilton Kelley. I'm the founder and director of the Community Empowerment and Development Association here in Port Arthur, Texas, in the nation of Texas. I am very, very skeptical that the nation of Texas will do a good job at protecting the health and safety of the people because the EPA is no longer in the equation. It's all about petroleum. It's all about money. That's what it's all about.
BURNETT: How strange it would be to walk the corridors of the red granite capitol building in Austin with no American flag flying outside.
REBECCA: Hi, everybody. My name is Rebecca. Let me start by saying that the Texas national capitol building we're in is 311 feet high, which makes it taller than the capitol building of our neighbor to the north, the United States. San Jacinto was the site of the final battle...
BURNETT: The burst of Texas nationalism might be tempered by a sort of independence hangover.
HARVEY KRONBERG: Every day we're peeling back the onion and finding another level of complexity that I don't think anybody initially anticipated.
BURNETT: That's Harvey Kronberg, longtime editor and publisher of the political newsletter the Quorum Report. He says a modern sovereign nation requires more, not less government than a state does. Imagine all the new departments: Foreign Affairs, the Texas Aviation Authority, the Office for Nuclear Regulation and the myriad expenses that Washington picked up, such as maintaining interstate highways, inspecting meat and checking passports.
KRONBERG: Reality is beginning to stagger the folks in the building here.
BURNETT: Longtime Texas writer Joe Nick Patoski sits on a bench in downtown Austin, ruminating on the hassles of self-rule.
JOE NICK PATOSKI: You can't get in the car and go to New Orleans, be there in six hours anymore. Listen, have you been to the Louisiana checkpoint in Vinton? They're extracting some kind of revenge, the way they treat us as Third World citizens.
BURNETT: An independent Texas would need its own foreign relations. And the modern nation of Texas would find many countries eager to construct embassies in Austin, says Carne Ross, who runs Independent Diplomat, a firm in New York City that helps fledgling nations.
CARNE ROSS: Because of Texas's wealth, 15th largest economy in the world, they do not want to have bad relations with Texas. There are many countries, China for instance, that want to preserve their ability to access countries with major oil and gas reserves, so Texas fit into that.
BURNETT: One of the key positions in the new government would be the cabinet secretary who formulates Texas' interactions with the rest of the world.
KINKY FRIEDMAN: I am Kinky Friedman, secretary of foreign affairs for the nation of Texas. I think the first thing we would do is go to the Third World countries and teach the women how to grow big hair. I will keep us out of war with Oklahoma. And one of the first countries we'll open free trade with is Cuba. We will be opening cigar stores all over Texas. We're not supporting their economy. We're burning their fields.
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BURNETT: Texas might see itself as culturally akin to the Upper 49. But as time goes on, the nation's destiny would be determined by its genetic ties to the South. Because if current demographic growth continues, Texas will become majority Hispanic in a generation. The prospect of Texas as the newest Latin American nation amuses Austin cultural marketing consultant Mando Rayo.
MANDO RAYO: Texas becomes La Republica de Tejas. The panhandle city of Amarillo becomes Amarillo. And our national pride, the Dallas Vaqueros, win the Super Bowl.
BURNETT: Finally, would the U.S. let Texas go? Would there be a constitutional standoff and opposition from the remaining United States?
H.W. Brands is a presidential scholar at the University of Texas at Austin.
H.W. BRANDS: Well, the Texans were all set for a fight. And I don't know. Maybe they were a little bit surprised. Maybe they were miffed that much of the rest of the country said, well, we've had enough of the Texans. Let them go. We'll be better off without them.
BURNETT: Our premise of an independent Texas is not actually all that popular in the Lone Star State. Last year, Public Policy Polling asked Texans if they favored secession. Fewer than one in five were for it. And for the 18 percent that said yes, consider this food for thought.
John Burnett, NPR News, Austin, Texas.
CORNISH: And we had help on this story from independent producer Michael May.
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CORNISH: You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.