By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina, Inc.
The start of the Summer Olympics is almost a week away, but already alcohol opponents and pro-family forces in North Carolina have experienced the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat with Tuesday’s votes in Taylorsville and Asheboro.
ASHEBORO FALLS TO WELL-FINANCED FORCES
For years the home of the N.C. Zoo has been held up as a shining example – the largest Tar Heel municipality without the taint of alcohol sales. But Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Asheboro (CSHA) said their best efforts could not slow the momentum of alcohol forces that outspent them 3-to-1.
The N.C. Malt Beverage and Wine Control Institute gave $25,000 and Wal-Mart Stores gave $10,000 to the pro-alcohol group, while CSHA relied on local churches and individuals.
With more than a 54 percent turnout, voters approved all four alcohol issues (malt beverages, unfortified wine, ABC stores and mixed beverages) by about a 60-40 split; some 4,000 approving and 2,500 to 2,600 opposed on each issue.
Many were drawn in by economic factors that have no connection with alcohol, but became part of marketers’ strategy.
“One of the greatest challenges for the Citizens for a Safe and Healthy Asheboro was to overcome the obstacles of the temporary downturn in the economony, the current high energy prices and the loss of jobs in our region due to the transitioning industries of textiles and furniture,” said the Rev. Johnny Henderson, pastor of Cross Road Baptist Church and a leader of the opposition. “None of this had anything to do with alcohol sales, but the pro-forces capitalized well on these economic factors in promoting the need for alcohol economic development. Time will tell if they can deliver on their promises.”
The Rev. John Rogers, pastor at First Baptist of Asheboro, said the work is not over for the the Citizens committee as he urged them to continue to reach out to people for Christ and not to shy away from taking a role in helping to manage the implementation of alcohol sales. He said Christians can have an impact on the new local ABC board.
Rogers also commended the alcohol opponents for their willingness to stand “in truth and love to present a much-needed and positive message to our community,” and to give of their time, money and prayers.
Both Rogers and Henderson emphasized the need for Christians to work for restoration and spiritual revival in the city that was so greatly divided on the issue and will now have to deal with the fallout.
“We still believe that the economic costs due to alcohol-related problems far outweigh any proposed benefit,” Henderson said. “… Our research showed that alcohol problems economically drain the U.S. society of approximately $186 billion per year.”
VICTORY IN TAYLORSVILLE
Christian leaders in Taylorsville are thrilled to know that their town won’t have the added burden of alcohol costs, at least not from more outlets inside the city limits. While Asheboro was welcoming liquor, voters in the Alexander County town known as the Gateway to the Brushy Mountains were defeating both a malt beverage and a mixed beverage referendum, some 57 to 43 percent.
Leaders of Alexander Citizens for Faith and Family Values (ACFFV) credit their victory to a “great abundance of prayer” and a highly organized grassroots effort. The committee, formed in early June to take a stand for “our faith in God, for our families, for our community and for our future” and to unite citizens to tackle moral issues, apparently left no stone unturned as it took on the alcohol referendum.
“Many different denominations came together and we began city-wide canvassing, going door to door, making phone calls and praying,” said the Rev. Neil Walker of Oxford Memorial Baptist Church.
Taylorsville currently has off-premise beer and wine sales and an ABC store. Officials in the town of 1,968 had billed liquor by the drink and on-premise malt beverage sales as revenue producers that would rescue the town’s ailing budget.
ACFFV knew they had to not only spread the truth about the dangers and costs of alcohol, but persuade pro-family voters to make going to the polls a top priority on Tuesday.
“We used an old-timey political, grassroots, get-out-the-vote campaign,” said Gary Jennings, retired minister and city businessman who served as ACFFV chairman.
Phone pollers and canvassers worked down a list of some 1,500 registered voters to identify those who opposed the alcohol issues and then made follow-up calls to remind them to vote. The group held a rally the Sunday before the referendum and featured the Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of The Christian Action League, on a radio spot. They spent about $6,000 on their campaign, including newspaper ads, billboards, direct mail and more.
What money couldn’t buy and what made the difference, leaders said, was prayer and persistence.
“We had about 75 people prayer-walking the city during the vote,” said Jennings.
Another 15 to 20 helped with transporting voters to the polls and poll watchers made reports at 10 a.m., 2 p.m. and 4 p.m., identifying which alcohol opponents had not yet casts ballots. Callers – about a dozen volunteers – then phoned them and reminded them to vote. The effort didn’t stop until the polls closed at 7:30 p.m.
“We worked our ‘no’ list down to the last voter. These men on our executive board organized the effort and mapped it down to the last detail,” Jennings said.
He said the days of simply preaching against alcohol and expecting the right outcome at the polls are gone.
“They (alcohol forces) don’t care how much you rant and rave in the pulpit, but they despise organized effort,” Jennings said. “I would encourage any town facing this not to overlook the aspect of the prayer walks, voter identification and voter turnout.”
He also emphasized the importance of providing voters with factual materials that are up-to-date.
Creech commended members of the ACFFV for their passion and their attention to detail.
“There are no shortcuts to these battles. It takes being conscientious about every aspect and working it right down to the last,” Creech said. “What these folks grasped early on and didn’t let go of is the fact that every single vote counts and you can’t assume you have those votes until you are sure they have made it to the polls.”
While Asheboro’s fall to highly financed alcohol forces is no less of a loss to pro-family organizations, Taylorsville’s down-to-the-letter campaign strategies may provide another shining example in the fight against alcohol referendums in North Carolina.
To learn more about battling alcohol issues that may soon be on the ballot in your community, contact The Christian Action League at (919) 787-0606.