Opponents face false accusations and misinformation
By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League
VALDESE — Nearly eight years after voters in this Burke County town defeated an alcohol referendum, they’ll have the chance to do it again Tuesday when the poll opens at the fire department next to Town Hall.
Alcohol opponents have been putting up signs, sharing information via letters and a Web site and planning to hand out flyers at the poll. They have also been making phone calls to identify “no” votes. But many say keeping Valdese dry will require calling out to God.
“Our biggest need is prayer,” said the Rev. Brett Howell, chairman of Valdese Citizens for a Drug Free Community. “This thing can and will be defeated through prayer.”
A community prayer meeting is set for Sunday from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. at East Valdese Baptist, where Howell is the senior pastor.
He said Valdese Citizens for a Drug Free Community has been reminding potential voters that before heading to the poll, they should first “count the cost of alcohol.”
“Its impact on a community is far more costly than the money it will generate,” Howell said. “To try and build the future of the community on alcohol (which is what we are being sold) is to build on sinking sand.”
Alcohol proponents have been working since late last summer getting signatures on a petition to bring about the referendum, which will include four issues: on- and off-premise malt beverage sales, on- and off-premise wine sales, the operation of an ABC store and the sale of mixed beverages.
Citizens for New Business say alcohol sales would generate more taxes and bring new businesses to the town. They filed a complaint with the North Carolina State Board of Elections claiming opponents were operating as a referendum committee without registering as such, and The News Herald published their accusations.
“We have never been in violation of the laws. We have always been in compliance,” Howell said. “My name has been filed as the chairman since January 28 with the Board of Elections, yet no one personally contacted me to get our side.”
Howell addressed an article in last Sunday’s News Herald that stated that the newspaper’s e-mail to the committee went “unanswered.”
“That e-mail was sent Saturday, Feb. 20, at 11:24 a.m. and the story was in the paper Sunday,” he said. “That e-mail account is accessed from my office computer and I normally don’t come in on Saturdays.”
The newspaper did report on Tuesday that Valdese Citizens for a Drug Free Community had in fact met the deadline to register as a referendum committee. Groups have 10 days after receiving and spending contributions to register. Despite the false accusations, the articles may have helped the committee. Howell said traffic to the group’s Web site, www.sobertruth.org, increased after their publication as did the number of requests for Vote No signs.
Although the issue is heating up as the vote nears, Howell said it has not been as “divisive and personal” as the last referendum. The Sober Truth Web site reminds voters that the issue is “not a debate about whether a person should drink alcohol or not,” but is one that concerns the “safety and health of our families and our neighbors.” Howell said members of the community can “disagree without becoming disagreeable.”
“Many accusations have been made that we are trying to impose our morality on others. However we must be diligent in stating our conviction that this is not a moral issues debate but a public safety and health debate,” Howell wrote on the Web site. “Our conviction is the more accessible alcohol becomes, the more prevalent alcohol related problems will become.”
The Rev. Mark Creech, executive director of the Christian Action League, said Valdese Citizens for a Drug Free Community is wise to expose the oft-promoted myths about alcohol sales, namely that they are needed to generate more tax revenue and enhance economic growth, that they are required to lure in new industry and that liquor by the drink sales will somehow provide better control. Creech addressed members of East Valdese Baptist at two services last weekend.
“Rev. Creech is an asset to North Carolina citizens and to the body of Christ,” Howell said. “He did a remarkable job Sunday.”
Howell had tackled the issue of Christians and alcohol from the pulpit last spring as part of a “Hot Topics” series. A video of the sermon, titled “Grapes of Wrath” is available on the www.sobertruth.org Web site. Visitors can also go to the site to read “Exposing the Myths” or to find out how they can help during the campaign’s final days.
Early voting on the alcohol referendum has been going on from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays in the council chambers of Town Hall. The last day for early voting is Saturday (Feb. 27), from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. On Tuesday, the poll will be open from 6:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.