A Modern 'Baptist and Bootleggers' Coalition Fights Arkansas Liquor Initiative


Ark. Map

In my recent analysis of voter initiatives appearing on November ballots across the country, I took very brief note of a pending decision in Arkansas. Voters in the state will decide whether to change the law to require all counties to allow the sale, distribution and transportation of alcohol. Currently, counties and communities call the shots. About half allow and half do not. 

Naturally, this means that those who serve or sell alcohol in the "wet" counties financially benefit from being next to "dry" counties that prohibit it. Therefore existing liquor stores and bars in the state are fighting the ballot initiative, and they're teaming up with local religious leaders, according to Bloomberg news. One liquor store estimates it will lose ten percent of its sales if nearby counties are required to allow booze. Opponents of the ballot initative are attempting to argue its about choice, not about bans:

Larry Page, a Southern Baptist pastor and director of the Arkansas Faith and Ethics Council, which traces its roots to the Anti-Saloon League of Arkansas in 1899, said the initiative is about more than just the dangers of alcohol.

"We're not saying, 'Hey, instead of voting the whole state wet, let's vote the whole state dry,'" he said. "We're just saying, 'Let people locally continue to make the decision.'"

It's not the first time political issues have made for strange bedfellows, Page said, recalling when his group joined with feminists to oppose pornography and cooperated with Mississippi casinos to fight gambling in Arkansas.

A defense of bans that can be summarized as "Let's let the community decide whether certain types of commerce should be allowed," has been used elsewhere. Colorado Democratic Rep. Jared Polis used such an argument when he introduced (but later withdrew) ballot initiatives in his state that would allow cities to ban fracking. After California legalized medical marijuana dispensaries, individual cities had battles on their hands to decide whether they would allow them.

"Let the community decide" has a certain small government appeal to it, but let's not forget that sometimes what the community is deciding is whether they'll respect the rights of others to engage in commerce or to do what they wish with their own property. And as in this case, we generally see the argument used to curtail people's rights, not to advance recognition of them.

(Hat tip to Scott Lincicome)