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Alcohol issues goes from bang to under the radar

Wednesday, March 8, 2023
Alcohol issues goes from bang to under the radar

Ruston is on the cusp of its first local-option alcohol election in 21 years, but if you aren’t careful, you might miss it.

That’s because what began with a bang last fall seems to have downgraded to little more than a ho-hum event. Apparently, that’s part of the plan. But it’s risky.

At issue is whether grocery stores should be able to sell wine and higher-content alcohol. Walmart and Brookshire’s, parent company of Super 1, are spearheading the move, just like they did five years ago when they didn’t get off first base.

This time, they may be just a few weeks shy of potentially scoring a home run. City voters go to the polls March 25 to decide if the big corporations get their wish. Odds are, the proposition will pass, especially in that there’s no vocal opposition.

Nevertheless, there’s risk involved. Part of the blame goes to the state. Louisiana law requires all five local- option choices be on the ballot, even if only one is in question.

Each option stands on its own; thus, if Ruston voters want patrons to continue to be able to buy a drink with a meal at a city restaurant, they must vote to keep that option.

If voters want people to still be able to buy package beer or beer for consumption on premises, they must vote to keep that, too.

Never mind nobody’s arguing either one of those positions.

If you want grocery stores to be able to sell wine, but you don’t want a bar on every allowable corner, you have to vote on those up or down on those options, as well.

It’s a dumb process made more confusing because the ballot language is about as clear as the proverbial mud.

Consequently, the Texas consulting firm handling the get- out- and- vote campaign for Brookshire’s and Walmart is urging voters to just vote “yes” on all five options — without any delineation on what each option means.

There’s a theory among people who run elections that oftentimes the less said about a proposition, the better.

That way, supporters will turn out because they’re interested and aware of what’s going on, but detractors or undecided voters won’t because nobody’s making any noise about going to the polls.

That theory can prove correct, and result in embarrassingly low voter turnouts on potentially game-changing issues.

Nobody knows if that will happen this time.

What we do know is the situation is different than it was 21 years ago. Then, Ruston wanted a movie theater, and the only way to get one was to allow restaurants to sell alcohol. Theater companies told the Ruston-Lincoln Chamber of Commerce they wouldn’t consider coming here any other way.

For business leaders, the issue was economic development. So, they set about to make growth happen. It did because voters approved the restaurant option.

But now, the bottom line is corporations wanting more money. This referendum is coming from them, not the grassroots of Ruston.

Their consultant argues sales tax is leaking out of Ruston because patrons can’t buy wine and liquor here. That’s true.

Parish taxing bodies are giving up about $2.5 million annually, the bulk of which would come to the city of Ruston, based on figures from a similar campaign the same corporations waged several years ago in Pineville.

Clearly that’s not insignificant.

Over the next couple of weeks, city voters will see a few reminders to vote. But the targets will be the 2,793 certified voters who signed the petition that compelled the Board of Aldermen to set the referendum.

Those signers are the presumed “yes” votes. They may get personalized cards in the mail, knocks on their doors, and even phone calls.

Trying to educate voters on the choices they face in any election can be messy. Some people way overthink any issue.

But to fly this referendum, or any referendum, as close under the radar as legitimately possible is just another way of saying somebody else knows what’s better for voters than they can figure out on their own.

Nancy Bergeron is a reporter for the Daily Leader. She can be reached by email at