By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
ASHEVILLE — What business does a tee-totaling Baptist minister, director of the Christian Action League, and President-Elect of the American Council on Alcohol Problems, have with the state’s Association of ABC Boards? And what did he say to get a standing ovation at the group’s summer conference this week?
The first CAL director ever invited to address the statewide Alcoholic Beverage Control group, the Rev. Mark Creech made it clear from the beginning of his speech on Monday that he was not endorsing drinking by attending the Asheville event, nor present to raise arguments of the past in favor prohibition, but was there to address mutual ground on an issue critical to both organizations.
“I believe our North Carolina ABC Boards and the Christian Action League share a common interest in protecting the public’s health from the negative consequences of alcohol use and abuse through strong alcohol control policies,” he said. “More specifically, I am here to discuss the common and continuing threat of any proposal to privatize the sale of spirits in North Carolina.”
Shelly Willingham, the new president of the NC Association of ABC Boards, said he and other ABC board members heard Rev. Creech speak on the privatization of liquor sales in Raleigh last year at the annual convention of the national organization, The American Council on Alcohol Problems. They said the information Creech provided was so well done they wanted their entire organization to benefit from what he had to share.
“We feel like the Christian Action League’s position is the same as ours on this issue,” said Willingham, who is from Rocky Mount and has had a leadership role in the organization for the past six years. “Our members had a great reaction to Rev. Creech’s speech. Everybody told me they were really impressed and so happy to know that we have an ally in this cause.”
After a short review of the history of ABC in North Carolina, one of about 18 “control” states, Dr. Creech explained to the 400-plus attendees why the Tar Heel state’s system of setting uniform liquor prices and locating ABC stores and alcohol sales only where approved by voters is imperative to protect the health of individuals and communities.
“The privatization of the sale of spirits in North Carolina would increase outlet density, hours of sale, spirits advertising and promotion, and ultimately alcohol consumption levels while undermining what has been a consistent revenue source,” he said while praising the governor’s and lawmakers’ decisions, thus far, to resist the privatization push.
Citing a number of studies, Dr. Creech showed that under a license system, North Carolina could expect from 1,200 to 2,100 outlets for spirits sales, as opposed to the 419 currently operating ABC stores. He said license states typically have longer and later hours of sale, another predictor of increased drinking, drunk driving and related injuries. He also addressed the additional alcohol promotion that privatization would bring, of particular danger to youth who, studies show, are most vulnerable to advertising.
“To entertain the notion that North Carolina could privatize liquor sales, which leads to greater alcohol outlet density, increased hours of sale, advertising and promotions and not increase consumption levels is simply an untenable position,” Dr. Creech said, as he shifted his talk to address the economics of privatization.
“In 2011, in addition to putting $221 million into the General Fund, ABC produced $42.8 million for county and city coffers. In addition to that $42.8 million, another $8.57 million went to local alcohol education, $6.9 million to local law enforcement, and $2.4 million to counties for rehabilitation, not to mention the more than $1.3 million that went to the Department of Health and Human Resources,” he said.
He showed how the millions now collected would be significantly reduced by a privatized system in which prices vary and profits go into the pockets of store owners.
Perhaps most importantly, he advocated that the controls in the current system effectively strike a critical balance — keeping consumption levels down and revenues up for state and local coffers, entities that must deal with the fallout of alcohol use and abuse. He said the latest statistics available show North Carolina ranks 49th nationally in per capita consumption levels of spirits and fifth in the amount of revenue garnered per gallon and challenged North Carolinians to hold lawmakers accountable to this high standard if any new privatization plan is seriously brought to the table.
“My friends, I would suggest to you that should privatization of liquor sales become a major policy issue for the state of North Carolina, then we must stand together on common ground and defeat it,” he strongly asserted.
Willingham said both organizations must be on guard and keep watch so that the issue doesn’t slip under the radar. He said anyone hearing the factual arguments Dr. Creech presented should realize why North Carolina should not privatize, but remain a control state.
Jon Carr, legislative counsel for the N.C. Association of ABC Boards, said Creech is an excellent speaker who gave a great presentation.
“Of course, the issue is at the core of our existence so all were very interested,” he said.
John Rustin, executive director of the N.C. FreeEnterprise Foundation, who addressed the crowd about the current state of politics in the state, said the positive reaction to Rev. Creech’s speech was a product, “not only of the content of his presentation, but also of the conviction with which he speaks.”
“While the NC Association of ABC Boards and the Christian Action League may differ on a number of issues, they definitely align when it comes to keeping “Control” a central part of North Carolina’s ABC laws,” he added. “It appears that the Christian Action League and the ABC Boards may have plenty of opportunities to work together on this issue into the future.”