Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Arizona Secession Talk (otherwise known as "Monumental Stupidity, Part II")

Yesterday, I blathered at length about some racists in the South who are talking foolishly and (as Fancy Schmancy pointed out in the comments, treasonously) about secession merely because a multiracial person has been elected president. And although I think this “secession” talk is based on both morally repugnant principles and ignorance, it is, at least in some twisted way, based on principle.

What I mean is, I suppose I might be tempted to talk of secession or at least leaving this country if, say, a Nazi who campaigned on a platform of racial separatism and eugenics were elected president. And, by analogy, a multiracial candidate who campaigned based on “including all voices” and “change” might well be a pretty scary thought for a white racist. In that sense, the fact that these racists might want to politically separate themselves from the rest of us because we will have a multiracial president, while ignorant and repugnant to most of our sensibilities as well as pretty monumentally stupid, is not quite as monumentally stupid as what (I heard) actually happened here in Arizona back in the early 1990's.

Here is the tale, true to the best of my knowledge and belief:

A friend of mine worked as an intern at the State Legislature in the earlyl 1990s. At the time, a federal highway funding law had required states to enact certain laws (regarding speed limits and such) in order to obtain federal highway funding.

My friend reported that a certain state legislator (who shall remain unnamed here because I don't want to be sued later for libel or defamation or whatever) was appalled and outraged at the federal government's attempt to control us, to bind our hands, to prevent us from making our own laws and rules.... "We should be allowed to set whatever speed limit we want, here in Arizona! We shouldn't have to comply with federal directives about that! That's just wrong!!" he shouted. (This is a paraphrase, obviously, since I wasn't there.) Okay, I can understand the sentiment, but...

What was his proposed solution? "Arizona should secede from the Union!!"

Yes, folks, you heard that right. He proposed secession as a solution to the perceived problem of the federal government using its purse strings to encourage Arizona to enact particular laws, apparently not even thinking about the fact that it was treasonous to propose secession, or even considering the two most obvious implications of his proposal:

(1) If the entire South in the 1860s (at the time, half the states) couldn't muster enough armed forces to successfully secede from the Union, what made him think that Arizona, one of the least populous states, could manage it alone in the 1990s? (Or perhaps he thought the federal government would just let us go without a fight, since it's mostly just desert out here anyway? Yeah, ok, that'll happen.)

(2) Why bother to secede? If you don't want to be controlled by the federal government on these issues, just set the speed limits any old way you want them and forget about the funds -- after all, if Arizona did manage to secede from the Union, the United States government surely would not provide Arizona with any federal highway funds... (Or perhaps he thought we'd make up for it with the money we'd save by not having to pay federal taxes? Ah, yes, but then our State taxes would go way up, leading to hugely unpopular state representatives, and we'd still not have enough money to build all those miles of highways in this huge state).

Yes, folks, this is the caliber of elected official we were blessed with in our great state in the early 1990's. (Not sure it has improved much since then, actually).

Next time, I’ll tell you about a few other notable Arizona politicians in recent memory.



That damn expat said...

weeee you know I love a good stupid politician story

Anonymous said...

You state..."treasonous to propose secession". How did you come to that conclusion? Is it because of your later statement "If the entire South in the 1860s (at the time, half the states) couldn't muster enough armed forces to successfully secede from the Union,..." Is this how you define if something is treasonous or not treasonous, by what side can forcefully coerce the other?

I'm not propoosing secession; however, if a situation arose that the citizens of a State (where true sovereign power lies) were to decide it's time to secede, then it would not be treasonous, but as the Declaration of Indpedendence states: "That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government,....". Please do not confuse "Right of the People" with treason. Note, the Declaration of Independence was in essence a Declaration of Secession.

LegalMist said...

Anonymous -- thanks for stopping by my blog, and for taking the time to read through the older stuff in the archives!

To answer your question how I came to the conclusion that it would be "treason" to propose secession, it's pretty much the dictionary definition:

From dictionary.com:

trea⋅son   /ˈtrizən/ [tree-zuhn]

–noun 1. the offense of acting to overthrow one's government or to harm or kill its sovereign.
2. a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state.
3. the betrayal of a trust or confidence; breach of faith; treachery.

Certainly secession is "a violation of allegiance to one's sovereign or to one's state." Thus, whatever your reasons for seceding from the Union, the act of secession is, by definition, treasonous.

I did not say that secession, or even treason, would always be morally wrong. In fact, as you point out, there may be circumstances where it is justified and even desirable. (In other words, the People may have a "right" or even a moral obligation to commit treason.)

My point was that, in a democracy with a provision for electing a new leader every 4 years, treason / secession on the grounds that the newly elected leader has a different skin color from the would-be traitors seems pretty unreasonable / unjustifiable. In 4 years, we'll elect a new leader. Why not just wait?

Also, you are correct that, in general and as a practical matter (regardless of whether this is "morally right" or not), the victor defines the terminology of war. From Great Britain's point of view, the U.S. Declaration of Independence *was* treason.

And, the fact that we won the war ("forcefully coerce[d]" Great Britain to let us go) is what dictates that we now discuss it in our history classes as the "War of Independence" instead of the "treasonous rebellion."

LegalMist said...

Oh, sorry, the point about waiting four years and electing a new leader was the *last* post, not this one.

The point of this one was that it was silly to talk about "secession" as a solution to the federal government's placing requirements / restrictions on the use of federal highway funds to encourage the states to enact certain laws.

And I do think that, before committing treason, one should think through the practical aspects of secession -- i.e., whether you have enough political support and/or can actually muster enough armed forces to secede successfully -- and whether such a war is worth its costs for the benefit you expect to gain (freedom from what? Receiving federal highway funds?).

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your reply. Keep in mind that we are only speaking hypothetically; however, how we deal with hypothetical situations says much about how we will deal with real situations. I personally do not consider the subject of highway funding worthy of opening the issue of something as important as a State exercising its right to cease being one of the united States.

In short, your definition of treason is to overthrow/kill the sovereign. The Republic is a federation of States and the sovereign power of each State lies with the people of each State. Each State joined the Union as a result of a convention representing the sovereign power of the State (the people). If the people of a State were to convene a similar convention to consider sececession from the union and the motion carried, then the sovereign power of the people will out. Therefore it is not treason; rather than kill or overthrow the sovereign, the sovereign (the people) have exercised their right and their sovereign power. The States are not provinces of a cental government to be governed and administered, but rather participants in a compact to provide for the common welfare of all the States. If the sovereign power of the people determine that it is time to dissolve their ties to the union (and it does not matter for what reason), then the ties are rightfully dissolved and each party should proceed peacefully down it's own path.

Additionally, secession does not violate your 3rd definition of treason regarding a breach of trust. Again, each State entered the union under the same circumstances....knowing that it is a possibility that any or all of the other States can withdraw if they deem that the union is harmful to their sovereignty, therefore no trust has been breached, but instead events have followed a course previously known possible and accepted a priori.

In summary, each State's right to secede is not a weakness in the union of States, but instead provides it strength. It is generally in the best interest of all the States not to trample the rights and interest of one State or section of States, because those States can invoke their sovereign power to depart.

Best Wishes...