I checked with David Couch, attorney for a petition effort to allow alcohol sales in Faulkner, Saline and Craighhead counties and a newer campaign to end dry counties statewide.
He said he was certain the drives in the three counties would gather signatures necessary to qualify for the November ballot. He said the state drive was just beginning, but was optimistic. Paid canvassers are doing the work. They’ll need 78,133 signatures of registered voters to qualify the statewide constitutional amendment by July 7. The county drives require 38 percent of voters, a good grassroots demonstration of voter strength.
(Note: Though the county and state drives share some participants and are using the same canvassing company, they are separate enterprises and ethics filing to date haven’t yet revealed contribution sources.)
This progress comes despite an effort funded at least in part by alcohol interests in neighboring wet counties to beat the petition drive. The Faulkner County Quorum Court adopted a hurryup resolution against the effort yesterday. And, though a Democrat-Gazette article quoted a JP as saying the resolution was not about discouraging petition signing, a backer of the effort who was at the meeting said other JPs said that was precisely the goal. Of course it was, because it dovetails with an expensive mail campaign to discourage people from signing petitions, available at local Walmarts, among others. Walmart money is a likely supporter of the campaign, as it was in Benton County.
Opposition researchers have dug deeper into the campaign money Sen. Jason Rapert has received from entities related to the opposing wet forces in Conway County. Rapert has been among the noisiest opponents of alcohol sales in Faulkner County, along with some of his putatively religious legislative brethren. His lamest excuse to date is claiming that it diverts attention from tornado cleanup in the northern part of the county.
As I’ve noted already, lobbyist Bruce Hawkins, who represents Conway County alcohol sellers and who has an employee as officer of the committee fighting the Faulkner wet proposal, is responsible for $4,000 in Rapert’s campaign treasury, from his lobbying firm and PAC. The Hawkins PAC received $32,500 in 2012 and 2013 from Conway County beverage dealers and the Distilled Spirits Council. The research shows Hawkins’ employee benefits service company gave Rapert $4,000 in 2012 and 2013 and the Hawkins Insurance agency gave another $4,000. It identified another $1,150 in small contribution from alcoholic beverage wholesalers and retailers. In all, they found more than $13,000 in Rapert contributions that smell of alcohol.
The committee fighting the Faulkner wet proposal has not yet disclosed any financial numbers on its sources and spending.