LOCAL OPTION ELECTION: "YES" & "NO" groups make final push in closing days of historic election
Butler County voters will get to do something on Tuesday, January 26, that they haven't done since 1942 when Franklin D. Roosevelt was still in the White House - cast a ballot in a local option ("wet-dry") election. Therefore, regardless of how a person intends to vote and which side prevails, this is an historic election in Butler County. Polls are open 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. at regular polling locations.
A "wet" community since national Prohibition ended by reversing a constitutional amendment in 1933, Butler County voters changed that status in 1942 by going "dry," thus prohibiting the legal sale of alcohol in the community. Fast-forward to 2016 and local voters will once again be considering the decades-old question of whether or not to allow alcohol sales in Butler County.
Two citizens' groups - Citizens For A Better Butler County and Citizens For An Alcohol-Free Butler County - are leading the charge for why they believe either allowing legal alcohol sales or keeping them illegal is in the best interest of Butler County.
Citizens For A Better Butler County (CFABB) launched the petition drive in the summer of 2015 and quickly amassed enough verified signatures (over 1,400) to require a local option election - the process which is outlined in state law. The petition was presented to Butler County Clerk Sherry Johnson in November of 2015. The county clerk's office, as required by state law, was responsible for verifying that the signatures were from registered Butler County voters. Butler County Judge-Executive David Fields set the election for Tuesday, January 26, 2016.
With the election date set for early 2016, an opposition group formed in short order - Citizens For An Alcohol-Free Butler County - to speak out against the legal sale of alcohol in Butler County.
Both groups are made up of citizens who have consistently emphasized their commitment to a course of action that each believes will make Butler County a better place to live. However, when it comes to the issue of the legal sale of alcohol in Butler County, the two groups see things quite differently - a difference that has sparked passionate debate, a bombardment of advertising, and plenty of social media sparring on both sides.
Each group claims a diversity of membership in promoting its respective cause.
"Citizens For A Better Butler County is made up about 50 local citizens, from all walks of life - business owners, elected officials, non-profit organizers, religious leaders, restaurateurs, and many more," said Josh Hampton, one of group's organizers, along with Bryan Locke and Cody Donaldson.
According to Hampton, many members of the group and supporters of the legal sale of of alcohol in Butler County have been reluctant to do so publicly because of the potential backlash.
"For fear of public scrutiny from the seething opposition, most have chosen to remain anonymous and out of the public debate ... and who could blame them," stated Hampton.
Nevertheless, Hampton described the group as committed when it comes to moving Butler County forward and making it a better place to work and live.
"We are dedicated," said Hampton. "Scare tactics do not work with this group and we'll continue to push for the betterment of Butler County."
According to Bruce Jennings, one of the primary organizers of Citizens For An Alcohol Free Butler County, many citizens throughout the county came together to oppose the legal sale of alcohol in Butler County. Committee members include Jennings, Gary Embry, Christine Flener, Daryl Dockery, Joseph Henderson, and Bruce White.
"This group has provided some leadership and organization to our cause. The committee has been totally overwhelmed by the passion and commitment of citizens opposing alcohol sales in our community," said Jennings. "There have been countless individuals step into leadership roles in the various communities throughout Butler County."
Jennings credits many volunteers with helping the group spread its message about the negative effects of alcohol.
"We ordered 1,000 yard signs not knowing how they would be accepted by our citizens. Within two days they were gone and in yards throughout Butler County. We have had hundreds of individual workers in this campaign, many going door to door," said Jennings. "Butler County citizens are very passionate about opposing alcohol sales as evidenced by the hundreds who have given financially. The campaign was solely financed by citizens of Butler County. They gave generously to have their voice heard," added Jennings.
Much of the debate involving the legal sale of alcohol in Butler County has centered on the potential economic and social impact it may or may not have on the community.
For Citizens For A Better Butler County, keeping money local is of paramount importance when it comes to improving the local economy and overall quality of life.
"We have explained from the very beginning that the legal sale of alcohol will not be a fix-all for Butler County’s laundry list of problems. It is simply a piece of the greater puzzle - a stepping stone," said Hampton. "Alcohol is already in Butler County - that is a fact - and not one person in our group denies the negatives of the abuse of alcohol. Many things in society can be misused and abused by individuals and we do not condone that behavior in any way."
"That being said, we support individual freedom and we trust people to make these economic and personal decisions for themselves and not have them made for them by other people," said Hampton. "With our community already a "wet" county in terms of consumption but not legal sales, Butler County currently experiences only the the negative effects associated with alcohol abuse without benefitting from any of the positive economic effects associated with the responsible use of a legal product," said Hampton. "Anyone who can crunch number on a remedial level can see that a significant financial benefit can come from spending more money locally on a product that is technically legal throughout most of the United States, though prohibited in a relatively-few places like Butler County. You cannot be truly fiscally conservative and against this measure. It’s impossible," added Hampton.
For Jennings and Citizens For An Alcohol Free Butler County, warning about the negative effects of alcohol and their potential impact on Butler County has been their primary focus.
"Butler County will not be a better place to live if alcohol is made more accessible through legal alcohol sales. Life is precious and priceless. One friend or one family member lost to alcoholism, or worse, is not worth the perceived economic impact," said Jennings. "When a person takes their first drink it is never an intention to become an alcoholic or suffer consequences as a result of alcohol use. If alcohol is made more accessible through legal sales we must be prepared for what the research tells us, there will be more excessive use because it is more readily available. Neither side of this issue supports or condones excessive alcohol use but where it is made more accessible here are the consequences we can expect:
"Harmful Effects on Families and Children: Children of parents who abuse alcohol experience low self-esteem, feelings of guilt and despair, loneliness and fear of abandonment, chronic depression and high levels of anxiety and stress, (Dept. of Justice); 4 of 10 child abusers reported that they had been drinking at the time of abuse (National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Abuse); Among spouse abuse victims, three of four incidents involved an offender who had been drinking. (Bureau of Justice Statistics)"
"More Violent Crime: Alcohol is a factor in 40 percent of all violent crime. (Dept. of Justice); Alcohol, more than any illegal drug, was found to be closely associated with violent crimes including murder, rape, assault, child and spousal abuse. (National Council of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse); Statistics related to alcohol use by violent offenders generally show that about half of all homicides and assaults are committed when the offender, victim, or both had been drinking (Department of Justice); Among violent crimes, with the exception of robberies, the offender is far more likely to have been drinking than under the influence of any other drug. (Dept. of Justice)"
"More DUIs: Each of the surrounding counties with alcohol sales has significantly higher rates of driving under the influence (KSP statistics 2009-2014 rates per 1000) than does Butler County or surrounding counties that do not have alcohol sales; One half (50%) of all traffic fatalities and one third of all traffic injuries are related to the abuse of alcohol."
"Other Harmful Effects and Costs: 25% of suicide victims will be intoxicated with alcohol at the time of their death;12 health conditions that are related to chronic drinking: Anemia, Cancer, Cardiovascular disease, Cirrhosis of the liver, Dementia, Pancreatitis, Depression, Seizures, Gout, High blood pressure, Infectious disease, Nerve damage; Loss of workplace productivity due to excessive drinking costs the US over 175 billion each year. (US Department of Health and Human Services); According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, excessive drinking costs each man, woman and child $807 per year."
Regardless of the outcome of this election, Citizens For A Better Butler County believes it has already achieved one of its main goals of sparking a discussion on the future of Butler County.
"Win or lose, we have already accomplished our goal of opening the doors to discussing the plight of our community," said Hampton. "It is my hope that after the election the passions that are currently so high will remain intact to keep pushing the envelope toward the betterment of our community - whatever that looks like down the road."
Jennings says he believes the campaign has shown how passionate Butler County citizens are on this issue of alcohol.
"We believe the majority of Butler Countians have seen the effects of alcohol on family and friends and are very passionate about reducing its impact, instead of making it even more accessible. We have heard testimony after testimony of families and friends that have suffered great loss as a result of alcohol," said Jennings.
Jennings said he hopes and believes will be able to move beyond this issue once the election passes.
"We believe that any hard feelings from the debate of this issue will be short term, as most reasonable people realize that there are two sides to this issue. We encourage each citizen to pray about this vote and vote how God would lead. Also to pray for unification of our citizens to move forward," said Jennings.
Regarding the future of Butler County, Hampton believes voting YES on January 26 will be a step in the right direction.
"Predicting the future is a very slippery slope and I strive never to do that. What I do know is that if this measure passes, the future - our future as a community - has a greater chance to be in positive motion toward a better overall quality of life. I detest complacency, stagnation, fear and apathy. Our community currently is in abundance of those things," added Hampton.
According to Jennings, Citizens For An Alcohol Free Butler County was formed to fight against the legal sale of alcohol at the local level and will dissolve once that question is answered on January 26.
"If voters approve alcohol sales in Butler County, please note the harmful effected listed above," said Jennings. "The issue to which our committee was formed will be resolved on January 26th. Our committee will dissolve at the close of the local election option vote. Individual committee members will continue to serve others in various local volunteer programs that address these issues," added Jennings.
With the vote coming in a few days, Hampton encourages citizens of Butler County to cast an informed, educated ballot regarding the legal sale of alcohol.
"I believe most decisions have already been made concerning this election. Most everyone knows how they plan to vote on January 26 and for those who don't, I would encourage them to take personal responsibility and conduct their own research, form an educated opinion, and vote their conscience," said Hampton. "No matter the outcome of this election, we'll all wake up on January 27 and still be in this together."
For Citizens For An Alcohol Free Butler County, Jennings reiterates his group's opposition to the legal sale of alcohol and how it will cost Butler County in the long run.
"We believe there will be a significant cost to selling alcohol in Butler County. We know there is a cost to policing, regulating and administration of alcohol sales. History tells us that alcohol has many harmful effects. We want Butler County to experience positive, productive progress but not at the cost of the traditional values that make Butler County a special place to live," said Jennings.
"We want to thank all of the citizens of Butler County who have worked countless hours and have prayed over this issue. Words cannot express the overwhelming commitment to this cause by our citizens. This is a very important issue to Butler County and we encourage everyone to get out and vote."
The question on the ballot on Tuesday, January 26, will be as follows:
"ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF THE SALE OF ALCOHOL IN BUTLER COUNTY, KY?