By MANNY FERNANDEZ
AUSTIN, Tex. — More than 100,000 people who signed an online petition calling on the Obama administration to allow Texas to secede from the United States and create an independent government received an official 476-word response from the White House last week.
The short answer was no.
But the response — in which a White House official said the founding fathers established the United States as a “perpetual union” — hardly discouraged the Texas secession movement, which has been simmering for decades but gained momentum after the re-election of President Obama.
On the opening day of the Legislature here last Tuesday, supporters of the Texas Nationalist Movement — a group that wants Texas to sever its federal ties and become an independent nation — met with Republican leaders, including Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst. It was another sign that ideas once regarded as radical and even unpatriotic have found a measure of support, or at least sympathy, among some conservatives.
The movement also scored a mention in one legislator’s opening-day speech, though it was not a reference that pleased supporters of the cause. “Our economy is so vast and diverse that if Texas were its own country — and no, don’t worry, that isn’t something we’re going to do this session — but if we were, we’d be the 14th-largest economy in the world,” the speaker of the House, Joe Straus III, a San Antonio Republican, told lawmakers.
Obama administration officials were reacting to a flurry of secession petitions filed by residents of Texas and other states on a section of the White House Web site. The Texas petition, with 125,746 signatures, declared that withdrawing from the Union was “practically feasible” since the state had a balanced budget.
The director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, Jon Carson, wrote in his response that free and open debate was good for democracy, but also cited some of the legal arguments against secession, including Texas v. White, an 1869 Supreme Court ruling that found that individual states did not have a right to secede.
“Our founding fathers established the Constitution of the United States ‘in order to form a more perfect union’ through the hard and frustrating but necessary work of self-government,” Mr. Carson wrote. “They enshrined in that document the right to change our national government through the power of the ballot — a right that generations of Americans have fought to secure for all. But they did not provide a right to walk away from it.”
Mr. Carson was answering secession petitions filed by residents of Texas, Louisiana, Alabama and five other states, as well as one counterpetition seeking the deportation of everyone who signed a secession petition.
The communications director for the Texas Nationalist Movement, Jeff Sadighi, shrugged off the White House response and pointed to a section of the State Constitution that says Texans have the right “to alter, reform or abolish their government in such manner as they may think expedient.”
At the opening of the legislative session, the group rallied on the steps of the Capitol and went to the offices of lawmakers seeking support for a referendum asking Texas voters to accept or reject secession. They got a warm reception: the group’s president, Daniel Miller, met with Mr. Dewhurst for about an hour.
“We had a lengthy discussion about the U.S. Constitution, the Texas Constitution and the future of Texas,” Mr. Miller said. “He was cordial and engaging on the issues with which we are concerned.”
A spokesman for the lieutenant governor, Matt Hirsch, said that Mr. Miller was one of several constituents who met with Mr. Dewhurst on the first day of the session, but that as a proud veteran Mr. Dewhurst believed in preserving and protecting the Union.