Group Wants Liquor Vote in Craighead County

February 13, 2003
Posted at: 9:50 p.m. CST

JONESBORO, Ark. -- The Wet vs. Dry debate in Craighead and Faulkner counties is becoming more of a local issue as draft legislation is expected to be introduced in the General Assembly that could simplify the process in getting the issue on the ballot.

A local spokesman for the group supporting the legislation, Caroll Caldwell, addressed the Craighead County Democratic Party on Thursday, telling them that he believes the people of Jonesboro should have the opportunity to vote on legalizing liquor by the drink sales.

Citizens for a Progressive Arkansas, a statewide group organized to, according to its Internet site, "encourage, promote, and facilitate the development and improvement of economic, social, and recreational opportunities for the citizens of Arkansas," is the chief proponent of the bill.

The immediate goal of CPA is to amend existing state law to give Arkansans a "true local option" to decide the issue of whether or not restaurants, hotels and convention centers should be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.

Those who endorse the legislation do so because they believe people should be able to vote on issues that matter to them. Those who oppose the bill, however, say the people in Craighead County have already voted, and their decision is to keep this county alcohol free.

Craighead County voted to make liquor sales illegal in 1944. In 1978, voters in the county chose to keep the county dry.

According to a draft of the proposal obtained by K8 News, if the legislation were to pass, citizens in Jonesboro, and Craighead County, could decide, by popular vote, if restaurants, hotels and convention centers in the city should be allowed to sell alcoholic beverages.

"I'm not after liquor stores to come to Craighead County," Caldwell said. "I'm just after first-class restaurants."

The legislation would not allow liquor sales from any grocery or convenience stores, or allow for package stores to open in a dry county.

Current state law allows that a vote on the legality of liquor sales in a dry county can be called is 38% of registered voters in a county sign a petition. In Craighead County, over 17,000 signatures would be needed to meet that threshold.

The CPA draft maintains the 38% voter level, but would also allow either the Quorum Courts of Craighead or Faulkner counties, or the city councils of Jonesboro or Conway, to choose to place the liquor sales issue on the ballot by a simple majority vote.

At Thursday's meeting, the county Democratic Part voted to endorse the proposal and encourage local legislators to actively support and work for passage of the local option bill.

"Our committee has not voted for or against alcohol," committee member Dustin McDaniel said. "We have simply endorsed the right to vote."

Opponents of the legislation told the committee that they are fearful that if you're allowed to drink alcohol in a restaurant in Jonesboro, then the entire county will eventually become wet.

"It won't just be liquor by the drink," Bob Hester, an opponent to the CPA proposal said. "It will actually be bars opened up. There's a process in place right now that allows people to deal with this."