On Tuesday, residents of Grayson will discover if attitudes about the sale of alcohol in the city have changed in the past 42 years. It is an important question, and we encourage registered voters to take the time to go to the polls Tuesday.
Too often in special elections where there is only one issue on the ballot, the number of registered voters who don’t take the time to vote outnumber the voters, and voter apathy becomes the real winner. We hope that does not happen in Grayson on Tuesday and the results are clear and decisive.
The last time Grayson voters expressed their views on alcohol sales was on July 2, 1971, and the results of the referendum that was just two days before Independence Day was not even close. Of the 1,012 Grayson voters who cast ballots that day, 751 voted for the Grayson sat to remain dry, while only 261 voters in favor of the legal sale of alcohol.
Will the results be any different this time around? While we will not know for certain until Tuesday evening, it is clear that public attitudes about the legal sale of alcohol have changed significantly since 1971. At that time, the legal sale of alcohol was barred in every single city and county in this corner of Kentucky. It would be another 10 years before this region’s “dry” spell would end when voters in what was then four precincts in downtown Ashland took advantage of a new state law supported by then State Rep. Charlie Holbrook, R-Ashland, to overwhelmingly approve the sale of alcohol in what is now two precincts.
Just a little more than a year before that vote, a referendum to allow the sale of alcohol throughout the city had been defeated by voters.
The 1981 Ashland vote was the first chip in the armor barring this region from legal alcohol sales, but it was hardly the last. Since 1981, many other Kentucky cities and counties have voted to either go “wet” or “moist,” the name given to a vote in which residents agree to the sale of alcohol by the drink at restaurants that can seat more than 100 and receive 70 percent of the income from non-alcohol sales. The “moist”law did not exist in 1971.
Among communities near Grayson, alcohol sales are now permitted in Morehead and voters in all of Boyd County and Russell have voted to go “moist.” Even in Carter County, voters in one precinct have agreed to allow the sale of alcohol at the one winery in the county.
In fact, when Greenup County voters opted for the county to remain “dry” in January, that vote represented one of the relatively few examples of voters rejecting expanded alcohol sales when given the chance. In Ashland, voters in the two “wet” precincts voted to allow Sunday sales, an outcome that would be been inconceivable in 1981.
Officially, of Kentucky’s 120 counties, statistics compiled three months ago listed 37 counties as “dry,” 33 as “wet” and 50 as “moist.” That’s far greater than in 1971.
The arguments for and against the sale of alcohol have not changed much over the years. In Grayson, proponents of legal alcohol sales say it would promote economic development and create jobs in the small town, and they are probably right. Because it is more visible from the interstate than any other Interstate 64 exit between Lexington and Ashland, the I-64 exit in Grayson already has spurred substantial growth. If voters approve alcohol sales, we can envision the interchange attracting national chain restaurants that sell alcohol by the drink. In addition, we can imagine several existing restaurants in Grayson deciding to sell either alcohol or beer if the referendum is approved.
Opponents in Grayson contend that the negatives of alcohol sales far outweigh the positives. Calling themselves the Citizens for Positive Progress, opponents published a “no” ad in the Grayson newspaper that focused on the social problems associated with alcohol consumption. They claim that a “yes” vote will lead to more public drunkenness in Grayson, more drunken driving on the city’s streets, and more alcoholism.
While we know first hand from our experience in Ashland that alcohol sales can be legalized without the dire effects predicted by “dry” forces, there is no question that those who abuse alcohol cause major problems, whether they get their booze in another city or from a bootlegger — or in Grayson.
Long-time readers of The Independent’s opinion page know that this newspaper has a long record of supporting controlled alcohol sales, and we are tempted to do so again.
However, our opinion on alcohol sales in Grayson really does not matter because we don’t live there. This is a decision that the people of Grayson must make. It is an important decision. Regardless of how you vote, take the time to go to the polls Tuesday. The outcome will have an impact on the future of Grayson.