By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
A mixed reaction to mixed drinks — that’s the result of May 6 voting in more than a half dozen towns across North Carolina. But alcohol opponents celebrated decisive victories in at least three communities, with a fourth contest — Erwin’s liquor-by-the-drink issue — still hanging in the balance.
When polls closed Tuesday night in the Harnett County town, the vote was 531 in favor of mixed drinks and 529 against. But election officials still have 26 provisional ballots to consider, with the final result expected to be announced May 13.
Just a few miles down the road, there’s no question about the outcome in Coats where residents voted almost 2-to-1 against the on-premise sale of malt beverages, unfortified wine and mixed drinks. Led by area churches, Coats Citizens for a Drug Free Community had fought hard to spread the word about the negative effects of increasing alcohol sales and had encouraged friends and neighbors to make their voices heard.
“We zeroed in on prayer from the beginning, got a good organization going with the help of the Christian Action League and tried to get good information to all the citizens of the town,” said the Rev. Jesse Mooney of Coats Baptist. “And we tried to do it in a very Christ-like way so that we could get our information out without creating animosity.”
Mooney said most recent efforts included some two or three dozen people taking informational brochures door-to-door throughout the town and the publication of a simple, but direct newspaper ad the day before the vote.
Poll workers in Coats reported one of the highest turnouts for a primary in recent memory, a result that didn’t surprise Mooney.
“We had some people who went and registered to vote just because of this issue,” he said. “I know of one woman who is about 70 years old who had never voted before, but her pastor helped her to register and she was able to vote. Her husband, who hadn’t voted in 50 years, voted this time.”
Mooney said he knows the fight against on-premise sales is not over for good, as it may come up again in three years, but he hopes the overwhelming response will make alcohol promoters think twice before seeking another referendum.
Similar opposition efforts paid off in Dobson where the Rev. Rick Cothren of Shield of Faith Baptist led the push with a letter mailed to the town’s 678 voters. Some 22 votes made the difference in the mixed drink referendum.
Concerned Citizens there sponsored a rally that drew 185 people to the courthouse square on Nov. 3 to hear from Dr. Ron Baity, president of Return America, and the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League.
“We give the glory to God for this victory,” said Cothren, who admitted that he was less than confident going into Tuesday’s vote.
He believes the letter helped voters understand that liquor by the drink is no economy panacea.
“We explained that what would happen wouldn’t necessarily be drawing in big nice restaurants, but instead we could get a bunch of small bars,” Cothren said.
Just 12 miles away, voters in Pilot Mountain, also a Surry County town, approved mixed beverage sales (56 percent to 44 percent) and opened the door for an ABC store (54-to-46).
Voters in Davidson County’s Denton made their choice clear, voting down nine separate alcohol issues ranging from off-premise beer sales to an ABC store and liquor-by-the-drink. Vote ratios varied with 40 to 43 percent voting for alcohol sales and 57 to 60 percent opposing. This was at least the sixth time over the past 25 years that voters were able to keep alcohol at bay.
Citizens for a Drug and Alcohol Free Denton met weekly to coordinate their opposition efforts which ranged from phone polling to newspaper ads.
“These successful efforts in Coats, Dobson and Denton should encourage those in other parts of the state who want to keep alcohol sales out of their communities,” said the Rev. Creech. “It is no small feat, but it can be done.”
Opponents battled pro-alcohol forces in Mayodan, Indian Trail, Graham and Waynesville with less success.
The growing Union County town of Indian Trail approved on-premise malt beverage and wine sales by almost 2-to-1; Both Graham in Alamance County and Mayodan in Rockingham County approved mixed drinks in roughly 60-40 votes. And Waynesville’s results were only slightly closer, with 56 percent of voters in the Haywood County town saying yes to liquor by the drink.
Montgomery County voters opened the door to ABC stores, off-premise sales of beer and wine and mixed drinks. The ABC store vote had the largest margin, at 997 votes. Mixed drinks won by 806.