Texas Breaks Away
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The ceremony was to honor the four-score living Texans who had participated in the Revolution. They were all quite old, of course. It had been 75 years since 1992, when Texas had become a breakaway republic and, like Tajikistan, Azerbaijan, and the Ukraine in Soviet Russia, sought independence from a huge, overbearing nation-state. Yet despite their age, the veterans of the struggle in Texas still had a bounce in their step and a flame of pride in their eye as they waved to the crowds who had come to honor them. Then they walked solemnly into the Alamo for a private multidenominational service.
Ninety-four-year-old Austin Dallas Houston V, of San Antonio, was the featured speaker. He had served as the Texas secretary of state under three administrations, but today his old compadres remembered him for a different reason. To them, he was still the boy of nineteen who, so many years ago, had single-handedly made a covert entry into the bedroom of his sleeping elderly aunt, Uvalde McAllen Houston, then the president of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, and slipped the key to the Alamo from under her lilac-scented pillow. Later that March night, he let the Texas partisans into the shrine of Texas liberty for their final, successful stand against the tanks and infantry of the United States. “Texas lost the Alamo once,” Houston said at the ceremony, “but we did not lose it twice.”
The old statesman then proceeded with a short account of the Revolution. The relations between Texas and the rest of the United States had always been marked with mutual suspicion, but the crisis that led to Texas’ breaking away began with two court decisions by two different federal judges, both delivered in December 1991. The first decision ordered Texas to release all prisoners from correctional facilities in and around Huntsville and to raze the prison buildings because they presented a threat to the environment. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs—a coalition of prison reformers and environmental activists—had proved that birthrates for the Huntsville canary had fallen so low that the species was threatened with extinction. Expert testimony asserted that the rare bird became depressed at the sight of humans in a cage and refused to mate. The second decision required Texas to accept “eagerly” any and all nuclear waste generated in the United States. “Why would we want to dump it in New En-gland,” the court said, “when we can dump it in Texas?”
Governor Richards called a special session of the Legislature right after the new year. How would Texas pay for the destruction of the Huntsville prisons? How would we pay for the new “environmentally neutral” prisons mandated by the court? Where would we put all the nuclear waste? Trucks filled with it were already moving in a guarded caravan from Southern California toward West Texas. In the Legislature, debate soon descended to bitter shouting matches. The session wore on and then ended with nothing accomplished. The governor called the Legislature back for a second special session, only to have the acrimony and insults resume.
Late one night, Diego Seguin, at 21 the youngest member of the Legislature and until then a quiet and respectful backbencher whose silence had made him neither friends nor enemies, went to the microphone for the first time. “Mem-bers,” he said, “I intend to say no. I intend to say no to tearing down the prisons. I intend to say no to the nu-clear waste. And, members, I believe we should all say no. I believe Texas should say no. Texas should say no now and forever. Texas should forge its own destiny. Texas should break away and be free.”
Cheers rose from every throat. A resolution declaring Texas an independent republic free of the United States passed by acclamation in both houses, and Governor Richards arrived at the Senate chamber to sign it on the spot. She called a general election to ratify the resolution. Meanwhile, Seguin disappeared into the night, driving his pickup with a horse trailer hitched behind it. The next morning the whole world saw the picture of Seguin on horseback, standing on the western border of Texas. Just a few feet away, in New Mexico, the first truck in the caravan carrying nuclear waste bound for Texas was stopped in its tracks.
That same morning U.S. marshals knocked on the door of the Governor’s Mansion. When they were shown into the room where Governor Richards was having breakfast, they demanded that she renounce the resolution of independence or resign. “Not till grits ain’t groceries,” she said. Then she added, “If that ain’t Texas, I’ll kiss your ass.” And she crossed her arms with finality.
The marshals arrested her and sealed off the mansion, but her granddaughter managed to evade the guards on her tricycle, and thus the world learned what had happened. One hundred eighty-three partisans, aided by Houston and his purloined key, barricaded themselves in-side the Alamo. They let no one in ex-cept television reporters. United States tanks from Fort Hood rolled down Interstate 35 to San Antonio and surrounded the Alamo. The tank corps commander demanded that the rebels surrender. They responded with a single defiant fax transmission.
A stalemate of several days followed. Then one evening about an hour be-fore sundown, George Strait and Charley Pride emerged from the Alamo, carrying their guitars. They climbed up on the nearest tank, the crowds surged through the barricades to fill Alamo Plaza, and the two performers began singing “San Antonio Rose.” By the second chorus, the whole crowd was singing along with them. The soldiers joined in. Everyone was dancing. Then a motorcade formed, headed by the tanks, and started back up I-35 toward the capital to free the governor and celebrate what Houston would call in the conclusion of his speech “Texas’ second successful revolution.”
But then Houston, who despite his age still had some of the key-stealing scamp left in him, disappeared through a curtain behind him and in a moment returned pushing a bent and ancient man in a wheelchair. The old man had enormous eyes, long fingers, and a shock of white hair sticking straight up from his forehead. The old compadres in the audience at first fell silent but then rose to their feet and began applauding respectfully as the old man gave short, arthritic waves in recognition.
He was Will Ricardson, the only tax consultant in the history of the world to be beloved as the father of his country. A young man at the time of the Revolution, he was then a legislative aide known only for spending long hours at his computer, involved in complicated and esoteric computations.
After independence, Texas found itself free of the United States national debt and of United States taxes, most notably the income tax. The populace, suddenly freed of the income tax, fell into an orgy of consumer spending and was in no mood to accept stiff new taxes that would require their paying to Texas pretty much what they had been paying to the Unit-ed States. How was Texas to pay for its government? Defense was not a problem. There were no apparent aggressors against Texas, and the new country allowed United States military bases and NASA to remain in Texas. But education, roads, social programs, law enforcement, and the many other costs of government—how was Texas to pay for all that?
At the hastily convened constitutional convention, Ricardson became the intellectual leader. “To stay free we must have wealth,” he preached. “And to have wealth we must have capital. And we cannot have capital and tax capital too.” In the end the entire tax system of the old State of Texas was junked and replaced with a system devised by Ricardson to enable Texas to take its place among Germany, Japan, Taiwan, and the other great trading nations of the world. It was based on a simple concept that he repeated tirelessly on the §oor of the convention and in smoky back rooms: “We must tax consumption, not production. We must tax spending, not income.”
Thus the nation of Texas relied on a simple graduated sales tax. Everything was taxed. Necessities like food had a 5 percent tax. Desirable goods like cars and telephones had a 10 percent tax. And luxury goods like jewelry and speedboats had a 15 percent tax. These rates produced an initial outrage, but it faded quickly as Texans came to understand the system. Everyone was treated fairly—the rich had no loopholes. Neither income nor property was taxed at all. And, best of all, individuals in effect set their own tax rate. The less someone spent, the less he was taxed.
The result was the quick accumulation of large amounts of capital in Texas. This capital led to low interest rates, which made it easier for new businesses to start and for old ones to expand. And Texas’ free-trade laws made it the su-preme trading nation in the Western Hemisphere.
After the applause for Ricardson had died down, Houston pushed him back outside to Alamo Plaza. The other old revolutionaries followed them. A large statue, covered for the moment, stood near the cenotaph commemorating the original heroes of the Alamo. After some more speeches, the new statue, named The Heroes of the Second Revolution, was unveiled. It showed Seguin on horseback, Houston with his hand under a pillow, and Ricardson sitting at his computer.