Thursday, November 29, 2012 12:04 AM
Petition seeks state sovereignty
Wilson County residents say secession petition is about preserving states' rights, not dissolving union
By Corey Friedman | Times Online Editor
It’s not a call for civil war, signers of a North Carolina secession petition say. It’s a symbolic swipe at expanding federal powers.
Nearly 30,500 people have signed an online petition asking President Barack Obama to let North Carolina secede from the United States. Wilson County petition signers said the document is meant to send Washington lawmakers a message.
"I do think it can be a symbol,” Wilson County Tea Party founder Joel Killion said. "That’s why I signed it.”
Most supporters don’t believe the Tar Heel State will actually secede, Killion said. They feel the president’s signature health care reform widely known as Obamacare usurps the role of North Carolina lawmakers.
"It’s the states who created the federal government, not the other way around,” Killion said. "I really don’t think that Washington will pay attention, but I think they can see that there’s a growing desire in the American heart for independence. We want to be left alone.”
50 PETITIONS, 1 MILLION SIGNATURES
Residents of all 50 states have filed secession petitions on the White House website since Obama’s Nov. 6 re-election, and supporters have gathered nearly a million combined signatures.
Randy Dye of Pittsboro created the North Carolina petition on Nov. 9. Residents from the state’s western edge to the Outer Banks have added their names, but the petition also has hundreds of out-of-state signers.
"I don’t think there’s anybody — at least nobody with a brain — who signed that petition who actually thinks there’s a legitimate legal means to separate the state of North Carolina from the union,” said Dr. Rob Pochek, a Wilson resident and pastor of Raleigh Road Baptist Church.
Pochek said he signed the petition to send Obama a message.
"I’m an American, and I’m a proud American,” he said. "He’s our leader, and that’s the way it is. But I do want to send a message to him: You’re losing ground, your views are losing ground, and you’ve got to move toward the center.”
Petition signers aren’t just worried about overreach from the federal government. Killion said he’s concerned that the United Nations Arms Trade Treaty could be used to limit gun ownership in violation of the Second Amendment and the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child could undermine parental powers.
"We want the states to step up and say, ‘We’re not going to allow the United Nations to have authority over our children or our gun rights,” Killion said.
IS SECESSION POSSIBLE?
North Carolina can’t withdraw from the United States without violating its own state constitution, explained Michael Crowell, professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
"You can’t do it,” Crowell said. "I guess our public schools are not doing as good a job of educating people as I thought, because apparently a lot of people missed the section on the Civil War.”
Article I, Section 4 of the North Carolina Constitution provides that the state "shall ever remain a member of the American Union.”
"The people thereof are part of the American nation; there is no right on the part of this State to secede; and all attempts, from whatever source or upon whatever pretext, to dissolve this Union or to sever this nation, shall be resisted with the whole power of the state,” the Constitution reads.
Crowell said fears that tenets of international treaties will be imposed on individual American citizens are unfounded.
"The kind of stuff they’re talking about isn’t going to have any effect on everyday life in North Carolina,” he said. "Our state courts are not in the business of enforcing U.N. resolutions.”
As for secession petitions serving as a referendum on the president’s performance, Crowell said disgruntled citizens should take their concerns to the ballot box.
"Obama got elected, (Gov.-elect Pat) McCrory got elected, everyone else got elected,” he said. "If someone doesn’t like it, they have to live with it until the next election. That’s how democracy works.”
State Sen. E.S. "Buck” Newton called the petition "a silly idea,” but the Wilson Republican agrees that the federal government is growing too powerful.
"I think that it’s not serious at all, but it is a pretty good indication of how dissatisfied people are with the nonsense coming out of Washington and the White House,” Newton said. "I think there are a lot of people who are rightfully distressed at the power grab the Obama administration has undertaken.”
Newton said federal health care reform will strain the state budget and points to the fiscal cliff crisis as evidence that Washington is broken. But the secession movement is a distraction, he said, not a viable solution.
"I think there are a whole lot more important issues for us to be working on as far as trying to get the economy moving again and trying to create jobs in the state,” he said. "We have a lot of things to carefully consider and a lot of work to do. Talk about secession is really just not practical. I’d rather focus on the here and now and what’s real than on somebody’s fantasy.”
Killion said he knows Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians and unaffiliated voters who all have signed the secession petition because they fear government overreach.
"This is not party-specific; this is party-neutral,” he said. "They are losing touch with us. The first three words of the Constitution — ‘We, the people’ — are the key to the whole document. Of course, the government thinks it’s ‘We, the government.’”
Evaluating the petition on the likelihood of North Carolina’s secession misses a larger point about the public’s distrust for the federal government, Pochek said.
"I would describe this as a grassroots opinion poll,” he said. "It’s not something taken by a polling agency that can ask questions this way or that way to influence the results.”
Many petition signers also take issue with tax increases that Obama and Senate Democrats say must be part of a compromise to avert the so-called fiscal cliff, a series of across-the-board budget cuts and expiring tax cuts set to take effect at year’s end unless Congress passes an alternative plan.
"The reality is that the government has no money,” Pochek said. "The government has no product that it sells. There is no revenue to be generated. The government increases revenue by taking more stuff.”
Killion said the United States is on the verge of a historic financial collapse.
"A perfect storm is brewing,” he said. "We’ve seen this in Rome, we’ve seen it in Greece. We see it in modern-day Greece and modern-day Spain. We’re headed down the same path.”
Sounding the alarm now, Killion said, is the patriotic thing to do. He hopes that symbolic gestures like the secession petition can help the United States return to a more responsible course.
"I’m going to be dead one day, and what am I going to leave my kids?” he said. "It scares me. History is repeating itself. So, for me, these are scary times.”
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