The rising damp 

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Mostly dry for many years, Arkansas grows steadily wetter. At the 2010 general election, two more counties (Boone and Clark) approved the sale of alcoholic beverages, and petition drives to put the wet-dry issue on the ballot this year are currently underway in two more counties (Benton and Madison). If backers in both counties succeed in bringing wet-dry to a vote, and voters in both counties vote "yes," wet counties and dry counties will be virtually equal in number, the drys still one county ahead. Older Arkansans can easily remember when only a handful of counties were legally wet, and trips on the poor roads of the day were sometimes planned with that in mind. Benton County, which has been called "the wettest dry county in America," is the one most likely to go wet this year. Benton County last voted on the sale of alcohol in 1944, when many of the men were off at war. There've been efforts since then to put the matter on the ballot by petition, but they all failed to get enough voter signatures. This year, wealthy members of the Walton family are financing the campaign and have hired a professional group to gather signatures. That their family business, Wal-Mart, has its headquarters in Bentonville has attracted large numbers of non-native voters who are considered likely to vote wet. Not that the county is bone-dry even now. Arkansas law allows so-called "private clubs" to serve drinks even in counties that are legally dry, and all but eight of the state's dry counties have private clubs. Benton County has 128 of them, thus its nickname. But it has no package stores, no beer sold in grocery stores, and liquor prices are higher in private clubs than in public bars. And legal sales of alcohol would supposedly stimulate the economy, producing more jobs and more tax revenue.


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