Texans see some victories in liquor elections

On Nov. 7, more than 80 Texas counties and cities decided on propositions to alter beverage alcohol sales in their communities, with some alcohol foes losing in cities such as Rockwall and winning in places like Sunnyvale.

Most of the communities had two propositions introduced. The first proposition would allow for liquor to be sold or change the percentage of alcohol content of drinks sold in restaurants.

The second proposition allowed for alcohol to be sold off premises or would allow for alcohol to be sold in stores. While these battles raged across Texas, some Southern Baptist churches engaged their communities on the issue with church members, churches and associations taking part.

The liquor option battles in Sunnyvale and Mesquite are two instances of Baptist involvement in the beverage alcohol issue.

Save Our Communities, a political action committee, was established through the concern of three members of First Baptist Church in Sunnyvale and also involved members from Galloway Park Baptist Church and Friendship Baptist Church, both in Mesquite, plus other concerned citizens.

“We formed Save Our Community when we first heard about the propositions. Save Our Community (SOC) was formed to gather signatures to keep these propositions off the ballot,” said Sue Ann Mackey of Save our Community. “We gathered enough signatures in Sunnyvale, but not in Mesquite.”
Mesquite was a partial victory. Voters kept alcohol sales out of stores by rejecting a question titled Proposition 2, but saw restaurants gain leeway in their alcohol service.

A pro-alcohol expansion political action committee called Save Our Stores campaigned hard for the propositions.

“Proposition 2 removed the restriction on how far away from a church, school or daycare an establishment that sold liquor had to be.” Mackey of Save our Community said. “What made this intense for us is that all of our schools are on one of the main thoroughfares. If they removed this restriction there would be over 200 establishments that could apply for a liquor license.”

The state of Texas’ only requirement to obtain a liquor license is that an establishment must sell at least $10,000 worth of food items a year.

“Any store that sells at least $10,000 in ice could apply for a license.” Mackey said.

The political battle intensified. The proponents of Proposition 2 began an advertising campaign. Save our Stores was supported by outside organizations hoping to repeal the liquor laws in Mesquite.

“If Proposition 2 passed,” Mackey said, “it would take local control away from the cities and give it to the state.”

In contrast, Save Our Communities raised about $10,000 dollars to fight against Proposition 2.
“It really was a grassroots effort to overturn this proposition,” Mackey said.

The opposition spent almost $121,000 trying to convince the communities of Mesquite and Sunnyvale that repealing the liquor law would benefit both communities.

Because several grocery stores shut their doors recently in Mesquite and in Sunnyvale, proponents of Proposition 2 claimed that these stores were closing due to the loss of money the stores were not making in liquor sales.

“We found that the stores were closing not because they could not sell liquor, but because of poor financial decisions by their corporate offices.” Mackey said.

Save Our Stores also proposed that the communities of Mesquite and Sunnyvale would lose at least $6 million in tax money annually by rejecting these numbers.

“We crunched the numbers at Save Our Community and found that in order to make $6 million dollars in tax money there would have to be over $300 million dollars in liquor sales,” Mackey said. “The local community only gets 2.5 percent of the 8 percent of the liquor tax.”

“But ultimately it was a moral issue for us. Alcohol is a drug and we really saw it as preventing drug use in our schools,” Mackey said. “Alcohol has never proved to do anyone any good, except for the seller.”

The people of Mesquite voted on Proposition 2 and defeated it. Save Our Community helped raise awareness about how the passing of Proposition 2 would change their community.

The battle did not go as well in Houston County, but it was the churches there that helped raise awareness about upcoming elections.

Bill Jones of the Neches River Baptist Association helped the churches there battle the two propositions.

“Most of the major grocery stores had people out front collecting signatures to put these two propositions on the ballot,” Jones said. “Nothing really happened after the signatures were gathered until our associational meeting. There all the churches in Houston and in Trinity counties went on the record as saying, ‘We are opposed to these two propositions.'”

The association found a company that would sell them yard signs at cost.

“We were able to buy 300 signs at $17 to hand out for people to put in their yard,” Jones said.
The yellow signs had “Vote No for Alcohol” written in red.

“First Baptist Church, Crockett, was really helpful. A member of their church purchased 200 of these signs for people to take home and put in their yards.”

“Vote No for Alcohol” launched on a Sunday. The pastor of FBC Crockett, Keeney Dickenson, allowed for all of the signs to be placed around his church that Sunday.

“It was pretty impressive,” Jones said. “If you drove past the church you could not miss it.” Dickenson encouraged the members of FBC Crockett to take home a sign to place in their yards. “Vote No for Alcohol” also ran radio advertisements every hour for the two weeks before the election.

“We spent about $8,000 getting our message out,” Jones said.

Despite all of the hard work, the Houston County liquor propositions passed.

“The final total was something like 2,500 for and 2,000 against.” Jones said. “There were several positives things to take away from this even though we lost.”

The treasurer of the opposition called Dickenson to apologize for the tone of a radio ad that ran.

“We let people know where we stood politically but in a very Christian way,” Jones said. “A Christian attitude was very evident throughout the process.”

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