Liquor proponents say they have enough signatures

Supporters of a vote to legalize package liquor stores in Clinton say they have gathered enough signatures on petitions to put the issue on the city’s Nov. 3 election ballot.
Proponents of changing the law to allow package liquor stores to operate in Clinton say they have submitted more than enough signatures on petitions to force the question to be on the Nov. 3 general election ballot.

In an emailed statement on Monday, the group – calling itself Citizens of Clinton in Support of Package Stores – said it had “secured the necessary signatures to add package stores” to the Clinton Nov. 3 ballot.

Anderson County Administrator of Elections Mark Stephens said Monday afternoon that the group had submitted a stack of 50 petitions, with a total of 416 signatures, and elections staff members were going through them to verify that they are valid.

“They need 357 valid signatures,” Stephens said.

“We’re trying to verify the signatures,” he said, adding that the Election Commission should know by sometime Tuesday whether there were enough valid signatures on the petitions.

“It’s a challenge,” he said. “A lot of people want to sign, but they won’t be eligible because they don’t live in the city of Clinton. Some people believe that if they have a Clinton mailing address, they are eligible to sign. But that’s not the case – their residence must actually be within the city limits.

“They turned in about 50 pages of signatures, and we will notify them whether they have enough signatures or are deficient,” Stephens said. “They have up until noon on Thursday [Aug. 20], so if they are deficient they would have an opportunity to get more.”

According to Stephens, there has been only one vote in the past on the question of allowing package stores in Clinton. It was on the ballot on Dec. 2, 1997, along with a separate question on whether to approve the sale of liquor by the drink.

In that election, both questions failed by wide margins. Voters rejected package stores by a vote of 1,238-743; liquor by the drink was voted down 1,178-807.

On Dec. 4, 2001, only liquor by the drink was on the ballot, and it won by three votes – 1,115 for and 1,112 against, Stephens said.

“There never was any idea of liquor in Clinton before 1997,” he said. “This was a very conservative town.”

Opposition to allowing package stores in Clinton is ramping for the Nov. 3 vote.

Lee Hickman, pastor of Black Oak Baptist Church, says he’s opposed to allowing liquor stores in Clinton, but that he was not trying to stop the petitions and keep the package stores issue off the ballot.

“All I’m trying to do is to educate people on the other side of the argument, not to try to keep it off the ballot,” Hickman said last week. “I just want to educate people on the consequences and effects of what it would do if it comes into our town.”

The petition drive was begun in mid-July by Tracy Hooper, property manager of the Carriage Hill/Carriage Trace apartments, in an effort backed by local developer Joe Hollingsworth, Hooper said.

In Monday’s statement, sent by Hooper via email, the group suggested that should the measure pass, three liquor stores could be opened in the city.

“It is estimated that if three stores are allowed in the City of Clinton (one by the interstate and two within the local city limits) they would generate in excess of $225,000 per year in new city taxes and not require citizens to drive to buy these products elsewhere,” the statement said.

Hickman said last week that he doesn’t buy the argument that bringing a liquor store to Clinton would be a good thing just because it would bring in some extra tax dollars.

“Every single study I’ve seen shows that when these stores come into a city like ours, you’ll be paying more to keep things under control than whatever tax revenue you’ll get from it.”