HOUSTON - One group of Texans watching President Barack Obama's State of the Union address Tuesday wished they were watching it from another country -- without moving. Members of the Texas Nationalists Movement want Texas to secede. But could they really be gaining political power?
"The federal government is overreached," said Al Campbell, a Texas Nationalists member from Alice. "They have overstepped their bounds. The people of Texas are suffering because of that."
"I think secession is our only option," said Scott Smart, another member from Dewitt County.
Campbell, Smart and hundreds of other Texas Nationalists went to the state capitol on a cold, rainy morning in Austin. They attended a rally supporting the effort to turn Texas into its own country.
Those who participated said they're not part of any militia and have no plans to violently storm the Capitol. They said the federal government is sending the country, and Texas, in a self-destructive course and they want out. The solution, they said, is a peaceful transition to an independent Texas.
"Our focus is the political, cultural and economic independence of Texas," said Daniel Miller, president of the Texas Nationalist Movement.
Miller talked to Local 2 Investigates from the group's headquarters in Nederland.
"Part of our mission is to get a referendum on the issue of Texas independence," Miller said.
Miller is pushing for state lawmakers to pass a bill that would give Texans a chance to vote on Texas secession. Texas Nationalists have been around in some form for 20 years, but Miller said he thinks now may be the group's best shot at getting a referendum passed.
"The beautiful part about it is, the administration in Washington, D.C. does the majority of the convincing for us," said Miller. "Every time those guys make a move, our membership grows."
The Texas Nationalist Movement claims to have 250,000 members. As of Feb. 12, 2013, there are more than 111,000 "likes" on the group's Facebook page. That's more than the Texas Democratic and Republican parties combined. Miller said the group's polling shows several Texas counties are 65 percent in favor of secession. Miller's message to lawmakers -- Texas Nationalists now have voting power that can make a difference.
"It's enough to skew an election result," Miller said. "In the next election cycle, you will very likely see a lot of members of the Texas Nationalist Movement running for office. What form that takes, what shape that takes, I can't tell you. But it will happen. I guarantee it."
After the rally, hundreds of Texas Nationalists members went inside the Capitol to meet with individual lawmakers. Miller said he had a closed-door meeting with Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst.
"They can't comprehend how we're suddenly talking about this," Miller said.
Dewhurst's office confirmed the meeting.
"Lt. Governor Dewhurst met with a number of constituents on the opening day of Session, including Daniel Miller," Dewhurst's office said in a statement. "Lt. Governor Dewhurst told Mr. Miller that he shares the frustrations many Texans have with Washington on a wide range of issues and the federal government's seemingly inability to accomplish anything. As a proud veteran, Lt. Governor Dewhurst believes we should do everything in our power to preserve and protect our Union and the founding principles on which it was formed."
It's just one of the many reality checks for secession supporters.
"They're a bunch of clowns," said Peter Linzer, a longtime Constitutional law professor at the University of Houston Law Center. "They have absolutely no basis for what they're saying."
Linzer said there is no legal basis for secession. He said the Supreme Court has ruled no state can leave the union.
"It's not going to get caught up in court," Linzer said. "It'd be thrown out in five minutes."
Miller said his organization has had legal scholars and attorneys look at the case and believe Texas secession is legal.
"We're exceptionally confident that we're on the right side here," said Miller.
Linzer said the Texas Nationalists' group is made up of political poor sports who can't accept that they're losing the national political game.
"These people don't want to be Americans anymore," said Linzer. "I don't think they like being told that because they claim to be patriots. It's not going to happen. It's just that simple. These people can say whatever they want."
Texas Nationalists said they are preparing petitions to deliver to lawmakers in Austin. However, they said they didn't start that now-famous White House petition asking for Texas to secede. Texas Nationalists said they don't need the federal government's permission to do it.
So far, no state lawmaker has proposed a bill to allow Texas secession to come up for a vote.
However, you can buy a "Secede" bumper sticker at the Capitol gift shop.
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