Thirsty in Benton. Or, the weird vote on alcohol sales | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Thirsty in Benton. Or, the weird vote on alcohol sales

Posted By on Thu, Nov 6, 2014 at 6:51 AM

The broad rejection of the constitutional amendment to allow alcohol sales statewide wasn't entirely unexpected. Proponents spent next to nothing. County line liquor store owners spent $2 million at least — along with huge sums fighting local option drives in Faulkner, Saline and Craighead counties — to sell the largely bogus but effective  "local control" argument.

(Bogus? If local control is so special, why isn't it allowed on guns? Or abortion? Or speed limits? Or cigarette sales? Or drinking age? Etc.)

But anyway. six counties out of 75 voted in favor. They did NOT include Saline County, the same day voters there APPROVED a local option alcohol measure that will implement sales in exactly the same manner a statewide approval would have done. Columbia County was at least consistent, approving both local option and statewide alcohol sales, thought the local option was approved by a much broader margin, 

Pulaski County, awash in booze except in a few precincts, approved statewide sales, but only narrowly — by about 2,700 votes of about 124,000 cast.

David Couch, the lawyer who got drinks on the ballot on a comparative shoestring, says he'll try to persuade the legislature — and if not the legislature, the courts — that a petition requirement of 38 percent of registered voters is too high for local option elections. And if that doesn't work, he vows to be back in 2016 with a statewide initiative.

Randolph, Crittenden, Polk and Johnson counties also favored the statewide measure. Of those, only Crittenden is "wet."

Of course, virtually all counties in Arkansas have alcohol available in "private clubs," the quote marks because some of these clubs look and function just like any restaurant with a mixed drink license. See "dry" Faulkner and Craighhead counties, both of which voted against the statewide sales option. In both counties fierce county line liquor store opposition  doomed local option petition drives financed by Walmart.

The Faulkner County retail sales monopoly — primarily of benefit to Conway County liquor dealers, but also to a Pulaski County dealer — will end some day, just as the Conway business community broke the back of dry forces to open the door to restaurant sales in "clubs." By the way, don't say that was a local option decision. It wasn't. It was achieved by state law subterfuge that made granting of private club licenses easier in the name of "economic development." Craighead is similarly soaking damp from restaurant sales.

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