The battle over Issue No. 4 on Arkansas general election ballots, at least in financing the campaign messages, is between those who would like to sell alcoholic beverages and those who would like to continue selling alcoholic beverages.

The battle over Issue No. 4 on Arkansas general election ballots, at least in financing the campaign messages, is between those who would like to sell alcoholic beverages and those who would like to continue selling alcoholic beverages.


Issue No. 4, whose popular name is the Arkansas Alcoholic Beverage Amendment, would make legal the sale, manufacture and transportation of intoxicating liquors in all 75 counties of the state. That would effectively end the authority of local elections on alcohol sales, commonly known as wet-dry elections.


The amendment was proposed as a citizens’ initiative sponsored by a group calling itself Let Arkansas Decide. The group turned in petitions bearing valid signatures of more than 100,000 registered voters to qualify for the ballot. Last week the state Supreme Court rejected arguments that Issue No. 4’s language is misleading and that its sponsoring group had missed the deadline for submitting petitions.


That means we now have a statewide wet-dry election.


Now here’s the irony: A group formed to oppose the amendment, which calls itself Citizens for Local Rights, is financed primarily by liquor dealers.


In its first month of fund-raising, August, Citizens for Local Rights raised almost $1.3 million, according to a financial report filed with the Arkansas Ethics Commission. That included two contributions totaling $400,000 from the Conway County Liquor Association, $100,000 from Shamrock Liquor of Fort Smith, $100,000 from the Poinsett Package Store, $60,000 from the Greene County Beer Association, and $50,000 each from Ace Liquor Center of Cabot, Rafferty’s Liquor of Little Rock and Hog Wild Wines and Spirits of Cabot.


All those contributors operate liquor stores near the county line(s) of currently dry counties. Most of the other contributors also are liquor dealers or related organizations.


The report also listed spending more than $825,000 for public relations fees and advertising.


Let Arkansas Decide is probably not as well financed as its leaders had hoped. Its most recent filing, dated Oct. 15, shows a total of $165,000 raised to date. An earlier filing listed a contributions totaling $35,000 from Kum and Go and EZ Mart, both of which operate a chain of convenience stores. No doubt, its owners would like to sell liquor at their stores in now dry counties.


The lack of fundraising means Let Arkansas Decide can’t afford any television advertising to support its cause. For that reason and probably others, the campaign does not seem to be gaining any traction. A poll conducted by Talk Business &Politics and Hendrix College last week showed Issue 4 with only 40 percent support and 54 percent opposed.


Therefore, let’s deal with what Issue 4 would do, if passed. It says specifically: "The manufacture, sale, distribution and transportation of intoxicating liquors may be regulated, but not prohibited, by the General Assembly." Further, it provides that all laws conflicting with the amendment, included the local option (wet-dry election) would be repealed "to the extent that they conflict."


After several recent elections, including one in Wal-Mart’s headquarters county, 38 of Arkansas’ 75 counties are now wet, although some of those have dry cities or townships.


Arkansas’ liquor laws are a mess and badly need reform. Issue No. 4 would at least cause some reform. Advertising and promotional materials produced by Citizens for Local Rights ignore the provision that alcohol sales "may be regulated." It claims falsely that the measure would "eliminate the buffer zone that currently exists on alcohol beverage permits being located next to schools and churches."


Other claims that the amendment would open the door for large corporations to own multiple permits and put all liquor and wine in grocery stores, convenience stores and big box retail chains are also misleading. Nothing in the proposed amendment would do that or prevent the Legislature from regulating who owns or sells liquor. Such claims simply reflect the fears of current liquor store owners that they will lose their lucrative dry county business.


One of the best sources for factual, objective information on this proposal, as well as the other four ballot issues, is the Web site of the University of Arkansas Division of Agriculture’s Public Policy Center — www.uaex.edu/ppc.


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Roy Ockert is editor emeritus of The Jonesboro Sun. He may be reached by email at royo@suddenlink.net.