By Errol Castens/NEMS Daily Journal
NEW ALBANY – For the second time in just more than three years, Union County voters on Tuesday rejected the legalization of wine and liquor by 3,597 to 2,277, or 61 to 39 percent. The margin bested that of a November 2008 referendum, when legalization was defeated by 57 to 43 percent.
Influence from Baptist and other congregations that teach teetotaling was strong, with red-and-white “VOTE AGAINST LIQUOR” yard signs visible throughout the county of about 27,000 people.
“There was a concerted effort of many pastors that spearheaded some rallies,” said Pastor Mark Bishop of Victory Church in New Albany. “Youth from a number of churches were involved in putting out signs and doorhangers. It seemed like a good unity of church of all denominations that worked hard and put forth a good effort in defeating this.”
“I appreciate the grassroots efforts of people who worked to turn out the vote against it,” said Pastor Rick Blythe of New Albany’s First Baptist Church. “I see it as a positive sign for Union County that we want to remain the family friendly community we’ve always been.”
One of the group’s outreaches was a newspaper ad that showed the deterioration of a person’s handwriting under the influence of increasing amounts of alcohol.
“When you drink too much, you can’t handle a car,” the ad stated. “You can’t even handle a pen.”
Sheriff Jimmy Edwards, who was elected to the office in November, has often spoken against legalization.
“I’m glad it failed,” he said. “I’m proud that Union County voted against it.”
Proponents of legalization had been encouraged by New Albany voters’ legalization of beer within its city limits in early 2010. Arrests for several alcohol-related offenses subsequently dropped among area law enforcement agencies. (DUIs inside New Albany, however, were up by more than half, which Police Chief David Grisham attributed to the addition of a fulltime DUI enforcement officer.)
Citizens for Development had presented legalization as a “step FORward.”
“Vote FOR increased property value,” “Vote FOR decreased crime and DUI rates,” and “Vote FOR more job opportunities,” one of their ads stated.
Under Mississippi law, referendums on liquor legalization may be put forward as often as every two years if 1,500 voters petition for the measure.
Logan Rutledge of Nashville, formerly of New Albany, said a lot of factors went into the legalization proponents’ loss at the polls.
“The voting results tonight do not necessarily mean that the entire county is against legalization of alcohol,” he said. “We didn’t get enough of the people who are for it to show up. We had strategic errors, but we’re not discouraged.”