By L.A. Williams, Correspondent
Christian Action League of North Carolina
Voters in more than half a dozen Tar Heel towns will have a chance May 6 to vote NO to more alcohol sales — that is if they can resist the false promises of upscale restaurants, a revived economy and lower taxes — lures of alcohol proponents that studies show simply fail to materialize.
From Coats to Waynesville, elected officials promoting liquor by the drink are singing what the Rev. Mark Creech calls the “Booze Merchant Blues.”
“First, they’ll tell you that you need alcohol sales to generate more tax revenue,” Creech said. “But the truth is, my friends, for every $1 generated in tax revenue from alcohol sales in North Carolina, there is a corresponding expenditure of $21.42 for the cost of alcohol related problems.”
As for the nice restaurants and revived economy, studies show that businesses and industry look for infrastructure like adequate roads, water and utilities, available labor force, job skills, efficient schools and medical facilities in addition to friendly tax laws and good local government — not whether or not they can order a martini over lunch.
“Don’t listen to those who advocate alcohol as a panacea for economic growth,” Creech said. “When all the facts are considered we find that alcohol is always a drain on the economy.”
Pastors and concerned citizens across the state are working to be sure their neighbors have access to the facts about alcohol and will be prepared to vote no next month.
In Dobson, pastor Rick Cothren of Shield of Faith Baptist sent a letter to the town’s 678 voters challenging them to send the right message to school children, who are being taught to “say no” to drugs and alcohol, by refusing to bring in liquor by the drink.
“Dobson is probably not going to end up with the high class restaurants if the liquor by the drink is approved, but rather bars and more immorality for our city,” he said.
Cothren and other Concerned Citizens in Dobson expect some 500 people to attend a May 3 Anti-Liquor-by-the Drink Rally on the courthouse square. He said the event, planned to run from 11 a.m. to about 12:30 p.m., will include speeches from the Rev. Creech, Return America’s Dr. Ron Baity, and Paul Bunkie, whose children were killed in a drunken driving accident. Cothren said anyone wanting to help with the campaign should show their support by coming to the rally and helping to get out the vote the following Tuesday.
Similar rallies are being held the same day in Waynesville, where beer and wine is already being sold, and in Denton, now a dry town that will have a number of decisions to make in the voter booth regarding alcohol.
“We’re voting on the off-premise sale of beer and wine, the on-premise sale of beer and wine, the sale of mixed drinks and also whether or not to have an ABC store. They are throwing everything they can at us,” said the Rev. Tom McLean, pastor of Summerville Baptist. “The people pushing it are all promoting the same thing — saying that it will bring in businesses, more revenue. We all know it’s not true. The revenue will never outweigh the costs.”
McLean and and others formed Citizens for a Drug and Alcohol Free Denton and have been meeting weekly — Thursdays at 7 p.m. at Bethel Baptist — to coordinate opposition efforts ranging from phone calls to registered voters to ads in the local newspaper. McLean said voters have kept alcohol sales at bay during five or more referendums over the past couple of decades, but he is hopeful that past victories won’t make them complacent. He said anyone wanting to help keep Denton dry is welcome to show up at one of the weekly meetings.
The Denton group is also encouraging likeminded residents to consider running for town commissioner during the next election so that the issue doesn’t repeatedly land on the ballot.
“I think alcohol is an evil influence on our community and part of my responsibility as a Christian and as a pastor is to fight against that,” McLean said. “I’ve seen how destructive alcohol can be to homes and families, not to mention the effects of drunk driving.”
Similar to Denton, voters in Montgomery County will be voting on the operation of ABC stores, permission to sell malt beverages and unfortified wine and mixed drinks as well. An ecumenical group of pastors is leading the push against alcohol there, writing letters to the editor, advertising and conducting a calling campaign.
“It has been very low key,” said Tom Vannoy, one of the opposition leaders. “We discovered in our telephone campaign that a great many people were not even aware of the referendum.”
Vannoy said having been a drinker in the past has made him well aware of alcohol’s effects and dangers and that he is speaking out because alcohol use is spiritually and morally wrong. His family also suffered an alcohol-related tragedy when his sister’s son died at age 17 at the hands of a drunk driver.
Further east in Harnett County, the alcohol issue has been fairly quiet in Erwin, which is voting on liquor by the drink.
According to the Rev. Wesley Hamilton, pastor at Antioch Pentecostal Free Will Baptist, a group of pastors and concerned citizens have met three times and have a prayer meeting scheduled for Sunday at 5:30 p.m. at South Erwin Baptist Church.
Hamilton said speakers at the event will share statistics about alcohol as well as discuss its effects in the home, prior to participants joining in prayer
“Our mindset is that even if it passes, at least the church will have spoken out against it,” he said. “We just don’t think our community needs it.”
People on both sides of the alcohol issue have been more vocal in nearby Coats, where voters will have three decisions to make.
“Town leaders were approached by someone willing to build a restaurant if on-premises sale of alcohol was allowed. The mayor, town administrator and two comissioners were in favor of this,” said the Rev. Jesse Mooney, pastor of Coats Baptist. “The town was short one commissioner so the mayor cast the deciding vote in favor of putting the issue on the ballot for the May primary.” In addition to the on-premise sale of beer and wine, voters will also see mixed drinks on the ballot.
Four churches are leading the opposition via a group called Coats Citizens for a Drug Free Community and are using phone polling in addition to billboards, newspaper articles and a rally to spread the word.
Close to 50 of the group’s supporters showed up April 3 at an informal meeting called by Coats Mayor Marshall Miller.
Mooney said he opposes alcohol for both moral and pragmatic reasons. “I think this is bad public policy — studies show that an increase in alcohol outlets has a negative impact on a community in engendering a more permissive attitude toward alcohol use,” Mooney said. “It sends the wrong message to our young people about a product that is the number one drug problem in our land.”
Just like in Coats, officials in Graham are betting on getting a new eatery if they will vote in liquor by the drink. In fact, proponents are urging residents to “Vote yes for restaurant choice.”
Jim Albright and other leaders of Citizens for the Best Way hope Graham voters who defeated mixed drinks in 1997 and 2000 will again stand firm and vote no.
Albright said a recent editorial in the Alamance News raised a good point. “If not having liquor by the drink is what is holding us back, why haven’t big chain restaurants that don’t sell mixed drinks (Cracker Barrel, for instance) come here?” Albright said. “If we vote it in, I don’t think we’ll attract many restaurants, if any. And what we may end up with is the nightclub scene.”
The only member of the Graham City Council to vote against holding the referendum, Albright has been a leader of the opposition for the past two campaigns. He said Citizens for the Best Way phone pollers have been targeting residents who have registered to vote since 2000 and that the group is beginning to get out signs reminding people to vote no.
The group, which has a Web site at www.bestway4graham.org, meets on Sundays at 3:30 p.m. at Andrews Memorial Church and has organized two events for May 3.
“We’ll have Night on the Town, encouraging people to come out and support the restaurants we have and then we’ll gather and pray — Prayer at the Square,” Albright said. “These events won’t necessarily win or lose the election, but it is nice that we can get together in the center of town and pray for this issue.”
Mayodan in Rockingham County and Indian Trail in Union County are also facing alcohol votes next month.