The Challenge of Addressing Alcohol Policy in the NCGA
By Dr. Mark Creech
Wednesday of this week, HB 610-Modify In-Stand Beer Sales Requirements made final passage in the North Carolina Senate – legislation that research tells us is bad alcohol policy. But the challenge in opposing any alcohol measure in the North Carolina General Assembly is multifaceted and complicated.
There are a number of strikes against you from the start:
1) Because of the Christian Action League’s association with churches, many lawmakers assume we are approaching the issue as an outdated prohibitionist organization – a group of religious zealots trying to keep people from getting a drink. Although I am a teetotaler and during my pastoral ministry always encouraged parishioners not to drink, and though the Christian Action League was formed as a response to the repeal of prohibition in the 1930s, the League is not trying to bring back prohibition. That fight was lost a long time ago and today the League’s mission is to provide lawmakers with direction on alcohol policies that best protect the public’s health. Our views are based largely on the science of those who have studied alcohol policy across the country for decades. Some of the churches that support us don’t require abstinence on the part of their members, but they appreciate our commitment to strong alcohol control measures that encourage and promote temperance.
2) Alcohol policy is rarely an issue high on any lawmaker’s radar. It’s true that alcohol is not as urgent an issue as some other matters. But it is not true that it is not as important. Alcohol is America’s number one drug problem. Many of the assumed more important social issues have alcohol as the grease that sets them in motion. Alcohol is at the bottom of much of the breakdown of the family. Marriages often fail or falter because alcohol use complicates their ability to succeed. Children are the victims of abuse at the hands of an alcoholic parent or family member. Young women who anesthetized their judgment with drinking went too far and ended up having abortions. Alcohol fuels almost half of our crime rate. About 3 million violent crimes occur every year in which victims perceive the offender to have been drinking at the time of the offense. Alcohol threatens life and limb. Hundreds of thousands of alcohol related car crashes and other kinds of serious accidents occur annually with many people losing their lives or being maimed for life. The way alcohol abuse negatively impacts our economy could be added – the list is endless. Alcohol policy should always be of the utmost concern to any lawmaker.
3) Today there is hardly any industry with greater clout and deeper pockets in the legislature, whether federal or state, than “Big AL” (Big Alcohol). The industry gives large amounts of money to campaign coffers to protect their interest and to further their agenda. Certainly this is not to diminish the importance of personal responsibility. Nevertheless, the industry enjoys popularity and power – a combination that works against a careful examination of much of the pain for which the industry shares responsibility.
So the recent unfortunate success of HB 610 is nothing new to me. Still, I will not be discouraged no matter how many times we lose in our fight to garner just policies regarding alcohol use and abuse. Instead, I embrace a prayer once uttered many years ago by the elderly country preacher and long-time Nazarene evangelist Uncle Bud Robinson.
“O Lord, give me a backbone as big as a saw log and ribs like the large timbers under the church floor. Put iron shoes on my feet and galvanized breeches on my body. Give me rhinoceros hide for skin, and hang up a wagon load of determination in the gable-end of my soul. Help me to sign the contract to fight the devil as long as I’ve got a tooth – and then gum him until I die.”
I also pray that you would zealously join us in support of this cause – a cause too often underestimated in its importance by our lawmakers.