WASHINGTON — There's been an almost universal reaction in the halls of Congress to Gov. Rick Perry's suggestion that Texas maybe, oughta, secede from the union.
"It's known as a joking matter up here," said Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, who chuckled when he was asked about it earlier this week. "It doesn't present Texas in the best way."
Congress just returned from a two-week Easter recess, so this was the first time that members could trade information — or jokes — about secession.
Perry said at an Austin anti-tax "tea party" on April 15 that "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."
"That's not going to happen," Rep. Solomon Ortiz, D-Texas, said of Perry's secession talk. "We are interdependent. To secede; it's the wrong thing. Politically, it's going to hurt him."
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, guffawed when he heard that liberal commentator Bill Press had said that Attorney General Eric Holder should prosecute Perry for treason.
"Governor Perry has the right to express his opinion," said Doggett, laughing, as he headed into a meeting in the Capitol.
"I think the governor got carried away," said Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-Texas. "You see posturing in preparation for the Republican primary. It serves no useful purpose."
Texas U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison is all but certain to challenge Perry in the 2010 gubernatorial primary, and political analysts say that the governor is playing to the party's conservative base with his anti-government stance. Perry is one of a handful of Republican governors who've refused part of the federal stimulus money; specifically $555 million for Texas in additional unemployment funds.
The secession suggestion isn't playing well with one Texas conservative, however: Republican Sen. John Cornyn, a former state Supreme Court judge.
"Well, I don't think it's particularly useful," he told reporters during his weekly phone interview. "The legal response is 'You can't do it.' We fought a Civil War. You can't do it."
Cornyn said Perry hadn't advocated secession but that blogs had run with the idea, which became a media sensation.
Cornyn said fellow senators "were chuckling about it" this week, but he didn't seem amused. "I think it's a distraction. We have a lot of serious issues. This is not one of them."
However, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, who's known for his libertarian views, said, "I'm receptive to the principle of secession. You should have the right to leave."
Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, a former district judge, disagreed.
"It is a Texas myth that we obtained the right to secede" when the Republic of Texas was incorporated into the union, he said. Texas was independent from 1836 to 1845, when it became the 28th state.
"It wasn't in the treaty," he said, and the Civil War resolved any lingering idea of secession.
Carter is supporting Hutchison for governor, but he said that his knowledge of the law drove his remarks, not politics. "It's not the kind of thing the governor ought to say without checking his facts."
MORE FROM MCCLATCHY