Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry is still feeling the heat from his 2009 statement implying that Texas might secede from the union, but to be fair, Perry never even used the term “secession.” Meanwhile, numerous legitimate secession movements have sprouted around the United States in recent years. No one expects any of these efforts to succeed, but they offer a revealing look at the fragmentation of U.S. politics today, as rural and urban interests, conservatives and liberals battle it out in state houses across the country. They also provide an interesting exercise in “What if?” Here are 10 notable secession proposals in recent years.
10. Baja Arizona
Tucson residents are generally more liberal than the rest of Arizona, putting them at odds with the state capital of Phoenix and the more populous and conservative Maricopa County. Those differences in political philosophy have become even more pronounced since Arizona passed tough laws cracking down on illegal immigrants, a move favored by conservatives but abhorred by liberals. In early 2011, several Pima County residents formed a Start Our State committee and launched a Start Our State Facebook page, which already has several thousand followers. As co-founder Paul Eckerstrom told the Arizona Daily Star, “I’m tired of hoping and praying that rationality will come to Phoenix.” Supporters say the proposed new state, Baja Arizona, would include Pima County and perhaps other counties in southern Arizona. The movement faces long odds, first in getting such an initiative for statehood on the ballot, then getting either legislators or voters statewide to approve it. Then both the U.S. Congress and the president would have to sign off. Other similar movements around the country face the same daunting process, which is why even if secession seems to make sense for everyone involved, the bureaucratic hassles will make it extremely difficult to accomplish.
9. East Washington
It’s a familiar refrain on this list — citizens in the rural part of a state feel disenfranchised, ignored by state legislators and overshadowed by urban areas. In this case, conservatives in Eastern Washington are resentful of liberal-leaning Seattle residents and state politicians in Olympia. The idea for East Washington has been proposed several times in the past 15 years, but has never survived through committee meetings. A far less likely scenario is a state that would blend the eastern portions of Washington and Oregon, which share a great deal in common both politically and geographically. An even more ambitious proposal would include the panhandle of Idaho, forming a state known as Lincoln, Columbia or Cascadia. There is precedent for a new state to be formed from part of another state. Several states were formed in that fashion in colonial times, but the most recent success came almost 150 years ago when pro-Union citizens of western Virginia seceded during the Civil War to form West Virginia.
8. South Florida
It’s no secret that residents of North and South Florida have long disagreed on many issues. The state government in Tallahassee is dominated by conservative, rural interests from North Florida and the panhandle, exerting control over the more liberal and integrated population of Miami and South Florida. Although some view this secession movement as a novelty, some South Florida mayors discussed the possibility of secession in 2008. There is also a Facebook page, “South Florida Should Secede and Become the 51st State,” which boasts more than 2,200 followers.
The concept of a state combining Michigan’s Upper Peninsula with counties in northeast Wisconsin first surfaced in the 1850s. Given the similarity of the regions, and their great distance from their respective state capitols, it seemed a logical idea. Even the New York Times supported the proposed state. The secession effort was revived in the 1960s, and as recently as 1985 organizers were trying to get a secession bill put to a referendum, but the issue has faded in recent years.
6. West Kansas
In 1992, a group of counties in southwestern Kansas considered seceding from the state to form West Kansas. Straw polls in nine counties found strong support for secession, with voters upset about rising real estate taxes and a shift toward more funding for urban school districts. The movement fizzled within a few years.
5. Second Vermont Republic
This movement is the brainchild of former Duke University economics professor Thomas Naylor, author of several books on secession. Naylor advocates Vermont’s secession to become a separate republic, to escape the big government and multinational corporations that he says dominate the United States. Second Vermont Republic even fielded a slate of candidates for statewide office in 2010, although they registered in the low single digits on election day. Naylor believes support for the movement faded when President George W. Bush left office. It’s not the only secession movement in the state. In both 2004 and 2005, the resort town of Killington voted to secede and join the state of New Hampshire, 25 miles distant. The bid went no further.
4. Staten Island
One of New York City’s five boroughs, Staten Island has long felt neglected by city hall, spawning talk of secession for more than two decades. In fact, 65 percent of Staten Island residents approved a secession mandate in 1993, but the state assembly nixed the effort. Some have not given up the battle. GOP state senator Andrew Lanza this year reintroduced a secession bill. “Almost weekly, events occur that build the case for secession,” Lanza told SILive.com in 2011. But critics say the island would not be able to support police, fire and other services it currently receives from New York City. Even Staten Island Borough President James Molinaro noted that, “To continue to discuss secession is an effort in futility … [the governor] is never, never, never, never, never going to sign a Staten Island secession bill into law.”
This is not officially a secession movement, but … when the governor of the largest state in the continental U.S. addresses a Tea Party rally where shouts of “Secede!” fill the air and then he later implies secession might not be such a bad idea, it qualifies as a secession movement for the purposes of this list. Here’s what Texas Gov. Rick Perry really said in April 2009. Speaking to reporters after a Tea Party rally in Austin, he hinted Texans might get so fed up with the federal government they would want to secede from the union. “There’s a lot of different scenarios,” Perry said. “We’ve got a great union. There’s absolutely no reason to dissolve it. But if Washington continues to thumb their nose at the American people, you know, who knows what might come out of that. But Texas is a very unique place, and we’re a pretty independent lot to boot.” Perry has since said he never used the word “secession,” but critics say that at the very least his comments were ill advised.
2. New York City
In addition to the aforementioned Staten Island secession movement, New Yorkers have pitched several other less likely proposals, including ideas that would create an Upstate New York, a Western New York, a state of Queens and a separate Long Island republic. Then, there is the proposal for New York City to secede from the state. The idea had been kicked around for years, but picked up steam in 2008 when Mayor Michael Bloomberg testified in Albany that city taxpayers pay the state $11 billion more in annual taxes than they get back. Although one diligent New York City councilman has introduced several bills calling for a referendum on New York City’s secession, with support from many fellow council members, the idea has not advanced beyond the committee stage.
1. South California
Strange but true fact: The state of California was once squarely in the Republican camp, at least in presidential elections. GOP presidential candidates carried California in nine of 10 elections between 1952 and 1988. That has clearly changed in recent years, as the liberal/progressive influences of San Francisco, Los Angeles, Sacramento and other big cities have come to dominate state politics. Yet much of rural California remains solidly conservative. Secession movements in California are almost as old as the state itself — in the mid-19th century, numerous plans were floated that would have split the state in two, three or even several regions. And one region of the state actually claimed secession from California in late 1941, when several counties in northern California and southern Oregon voted to create a new state. Organizers picked a name, Jefferson, a capitol, Yreka, California, created a Declaration of Independence and even inaugurated a governor. The fledgling state died a quick death just days later, when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.
As the divide between progressives and conservatives in California has grown in recent years, several more proposals have surfaced to partition the state. Most recently, in 2011 a Republican official in rural Riverside County called for 13 Southern California counties to band together to form South California. Notably absent from that group: Los Angeles. As the official, Jeff Stone, noted in a statement, “Our taxes are too high, our schools don’t educate our children well enough, unions and other special interests have more clout in the legislature than the general public.” A spokesperson for Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown quickly lampooned the idea. “A secessionist movement? What is this, 1860? It’s a supremely ridiculous waste of everybody’s time.”
One More: Maine
Some residents in northern Maine derisively call the southern region of the state “Northern Massachusetts.” North Maine is extremely rural and conservative, a sharp contrast to the resort towns along the coast. Henry Joy, a legislator from Northern Maine, has pitched several proposals to split the two regions, but his efforts have met bipartisan rejection.