A statewide vote is set Nov. 4 on allowing alcohol sales in all 75 counties. So far, the forces that oppose this idea (mainly to protect market share) have the financial edge.
A coalition of liquor stores — primarily those with big businesses in counties adjoining big dry populations — has put together a kitty of $1.2 million so far and is already pumping anti-local-control messages against the measure. Local control? Hah. What it means is that liquor dealers in places such as Pulaski, Conway, Poinsett and Greene counties want to whip up anti-firewater fervor so they can maintain lucrative monopoly positions at county lines of dry neighbors.
And what of Let Arkansas Decide, which spent about $160,000, with some retail store help, to get the measure on the ballot. David Couch, the Little Rock attorney who led the effort, says he doesn’t expect to have a lot to spend, maybe $50,000. He’ll have no TV. It’s too expensive and mostly taken.
Walmart spent a huge sum trying to qualify local option elections in Faulkner, Craighead and Saline counties. It succeeded only in Saline, but faces a legal challenge that will be argued before the Supreme Court next week. Should the Saline measure get on the ballot, Walmart presumably will spend plenty at least in that market, which might include Little Rock media. But Couch said so far Walmart hasn’t expressed an interest in joining his statewide campaign.
The majority of Arkansas is legally wet and another big section of it is “damp,” full of “private clubs” selling alcohol. The local control argument is nonsensical when you think about it — we don’t allow local control on dozens of political and moral issues, why should we on alcohol. But the campaign has a lot of money and will spin fables about how the amendment will wreck alcohol regulation. It doesn’t. The legislature and ABC will still have regulatory authority. Would a court really say this amendment negated rules that prevent a strip bar selling drinks from opening next door to a church? I don’t think so. But you can be sure the ads will say otherwise.
As I noted yesterday, the Mapco convenience store chain has sent out a Twitter message promoting the measure.