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Not so fast: Arizona secession petition falls short of needed signatures

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WASHINGTON – It appears there will not be an Independent Republic of Arizona after all, at least not for now.

A post-election petition calling on the federal government to let Arizona secede from the union was pulled from the White House website Monday, after it failed to get the 25,000 signatures needed to guarantee an administration response.

Few appeared to take the petition seriously. More than 40 secession petitions from various states went up after the election on the White House site, which also includes petitions calling for the development of a Death Star by 2016 and demanding legalization of mescaline and magic mushrooms.

But what if the secession petition had been serious? It would have been a serious mistake, said Gregg Cawley, a University of Wyoming professor who has written on the relationship between Western states and the federal government.

“Suppose they do get permission to secede. Now what?” Cawley asked when the petition was posted in November.

He said states typically get a “tremendous amount of federal funds” and secession could have meant higher state taxes for newly independent Arizonans or fewer services to make up for lost federal money.

“Do they really want to give up all that money?” Cawley asked.

And Arizona did get more than it gave the feds over a 25-year period, according to one Washington policy group.

The Tax Foundation analyzed federal spending in each state against federal taxes paid by state residents from 1981 to 2005. Its analysis showed that Arizona got back no less than $1.08 for every $1 it sent Washington, and as much as $1.29 per dollar.

Joe Henchman, the foundation’s vice president for state projects, said that while the organization has not done the report since 2005, he would be surprised if federal funding has gone down since then.

As the federal deficit has grown, he said, states have received more money from Washington and they are, in general, relying on federal money more now than before.

“States are very dependent on federal dollars and the trend has become for them to be more dependent, not less dependent,” Henchman said.

But while the money would stop flowing from Washington, so would the restrictions and stipulations that come with it, Henchman noted.

“A big thing that would be different is that it (an independent Arizona) would have the freedom to design its programs however it wanted,” Henchman said.

Even though states get a great deal of money from Washington, there are “certainly a lot of costs that come with the federal money,” he said. States have to abide by federally mandated seatbelt and drinking-age regulations, for example, before they can get federal money.

That’s part of the problem, said Jeff Sadighi, membership director of the Texas Nationalist Movement. He said Congress tells states how to run their schools, for example, even though the Constitution does not give it that authority.

“They’re acting like they have exclusive jurisdiction in the 50 states,” Sadighi said, which is one reason he supports secession.

“The number-one reason is to have the return of the rule of law and the republican form of government,” he said. “Right now, we don’t live under the rule of law.”

Even without the federal strings attached, Henchman doubts that a loss of federal funding would be worth it for states like Arizona.

“I think the money from the federal government still exceeds whatever additional costs it may have,” he said.

But Sadighi said Arizona should be particularly amenable to secession because the “federal government allows the border to remain porous, folks are being killed.”

“The very sovereignty of the state of Arizona is being violated because the federal government is refusing to do their duty to protect the state from invasion,” he said.

Besides Sadighi, however, secession supporters were hard to find. The petition’s author was identified only as Nicholas M. of Gilbert by the White House, which just publishes first name, last initial and hometown of petition signers on its site. Public policy groups that normally promote states’ rights were reluctant to comment on the petition.

While Arizona got off to a strong start, getting more than half the necessary signatures in the first four days, enthusiasm waned. The White House said the final tally for Arizona secession was 24,111 signatures.

Eight other states, most in the South, were able to get the necessary 25,000 signatures to trigger an official administration response. The most popular petition was Texas’, which collected more than 100,000 signatures.

Brandon Lepow, a White House spokesman, said the Justice Department would be the agency to draft a response to the successful petitions, but it had not done so as of Tuesday. Lepow did not know what the responses might say, or when they might be issued.