The last time readers of this newspaper found out the results of a wet/dry vote for Faulkner County it was in the same edition that reported a narrow victory by Jimmy Carter over Gerald Ford for the presidency.
Now, 38 years later, we might be reporting the results of a wet/dry vote again this November.
Workers with National Ballot Access, a third-party contractor that does the actual signature gathering, have been in the county for more than two weeks now, and Natalie Ghidotti, a spokesperson for the Our Community, Our Dollars committee that’s behind the "wet" initiative, said the petition drive is hitting "internal goals," but "getting the last 20 percent of the amount we need" is the challenging part of petition drives. Ghidotti said that the committee "fully expects" to be sending petition gathers door-to-door gathering petitions at some point.
Conway’s city council passed an ordinance in March that requires peddlers to get a license and ID tag from the city, but canvassers, like the petition gatherers, are specifically exempted.
Our Community, Our Dollars is getting its main funding from Walmart and Kum & Go. A Sam’s Club is planned for Conway, and when it opens Walmart would have four places to sell alcohol in Conway. It has been reported by national news organizations, including Bloomberg, that Walmart has plans to double its alcohol sales by 2016, and the committee’s chairman, Jay Allen of Rogers, is formerly Walmart’s senior vice president of corporate affairs.
Shortly after Our Community, Our Dollars was registered as a local-option ballot question committee (L-obqc) with the Secretary of State, a competing L-obqc was formed, this one called the They Win, You Lose Committee, with a M.F. Dillard listed as chairperson and a Camille A. Boggess as treasurer.
As online alternative news websites, including a blog written by Conway’s Lance Gosnell, have pointed out, Boggess is a lobbyist whose clients include the Conway County Legal Beverages Association, which exists to represent "alcoholic beverage retailers engaged in the election process of proposed changes in the alcoholic beverage local option laws," according to tax documents.
So far, one mailer has been sent by the They Win, You Lose Committee warning that when someone signs the petition "the canvasser puts your name in the public record," and also describing criticisms of Walmart’s employment practices, dominance over local stores and social problems of alcohol.
The Faulkner County Quorum Court has also weighed in, voting unanimously (though with two members absent) to pass a resolution symbolizing the members’ opposition to a "wet" county on Thursday.
At this meeting JP Steve Goode shared DWI statistics from Washington County (Fayetteville), saying that Faulkner County could be expected to see a sharp rise in per-capita DWI arrests that would mean more money needed for jail stays, additional deputies and patrol cars — all outstripping the retail sales tax money that alcohol would bring in. Goode said at the meeting that his figures show a six-figure net loss for the county if it is voted "wet," and said that a county tax increase could be necessary.
The University of Arkansas’ Sam M. Walton College of Business’ Center For Business and Economic Research is preparing its own economic impact study for Faulkner County going "wet," just as it did in 2012 for Benton County. The authors of this study will, someone might comfortably predict, arrive at a different final conclusion than Goode. It should be released in a few weeks, according to Our Community, Our Dollars chair Jay Allen.
As the July petition deadline nears, the debate between "wet" and "dry" committees and factions can be expected to intensify. Watch this space.
(Staff writer Joe Lamb, can be reached by email at email@example.com or by phone at 505-1277. To comment on this and other stories in the Log Cabin, log on to www.thecabin.net. Send us your news at www.thecabin.net/submit)