Tyler and Justice of the Peace Precinct 2 voters will decide the fate of four local option alcohol propositions on Election Day on Tuesday.
Smith County voters eclipsed the previous early voting turnout record of 49,397 ballots cast. Election Administrator Karen Nelson said 50,567 voters cast ballots and that alcohol was a driving force to the numbers.
More than three decades later, there is still a division among Tylerites regarding going fully “wet.”
Proponents view beer and wine as a boon for the local economy and that legalization will return sales revenues and taxes to the community instead of just beyond the county line. Opponents view beer and wine as a contributing factor to social problems and that their introduction will be a detriment to the community.
Tyler expanded mixed beverage sales in 2008, effectively doing away with requiring patrons to be “private members” to buy alcohol in bars and restaurants.
More than half a dozen East Texas communities have legalized alcohol sales since 2009, including Winona, which became the first Smith County jurisdiction to become wet since 1930. But several communities, including Bullard and Whitehouse, have said “no” to alcohol sales.
Buy Local First, the political action committee for beer and wine sales, formed in April and circulated petitions in both jurisdictions. By mid-July more than 30,000 signatures were filed with the city clerk and county election office for verification.
Of almost 13,000 signatures submitted by Buy Local First, to place a proposal for the legal sale of beer and wine for off-premise consumption in the precinct, 6,966 were validated by the election office, Mrs. Nelson said in August. To place the proposal on Precinct 2 ballots, 6,579 registered voter signatures were needed.
The city clerk certified more than 9,000 eligible signatures. Proposals in the city required 7,895 signatures.
Stand Strong for Tyler, a political action committee opposing the proposals, questioned the signatures and petitions and requested copies from the city and county. In August, Strong for Tyler attorney Norman Ladd told commissioners the group found enough discrepancies to deny placement on November ballots. Ladd said the group identified 6,378 valid signatures putting the petition drive 201 signatures short.
Commissioners approved placing the proposals on the November ballot, which is required by law if there are enough certified signatures. The city also approved placement on the ballot.
Stand Strong for Tyler is considering legal action against the city and county regarding both entities’ inability to invalidate petitions according to state election laws. On Thursday, Stand Strong for Tyler member Mike Daniels, pastor at Landmark Baptist Church, said the city and count did not follow election laws and that all petitions in the city and all but 400 in the county should be invalid based on three criteria: each petition page must have an official seal, signatures by the registered voters in that jurisdiction and a page number.
Buy Local First chairman Bob Westbrook, a local restaurateur, said the opposition group is attempting a last ditch effort to “sow seeds of doubt.”
Campaign funding in the battle over beer and wine has been a lopsided affair but the vast majority of funding for the campaign to legalize, $323,075 has come from two sources – Brookshire’s and Wal-Mart. Brookshire’s gave $150,000 to the campaign while Wal-Mart gave $120,000, a total of $270,000.
Jerry Kidd Oil Co. gave $25,000 to the campaign for legalization.
An economic impact study the Tyler Area Chamber of Commerce initiated and released in late September showed legalizing the sale of beer and wine for off premise consumption would generate more than $100 million in new business activity, more than 1,600 jobs and almost $5 million in tax revenue locally.
The opposition group says the numbers are inflated to create a supportive case.
The Tyler Morning Telegraph contacted three cities, Lubbock, Irving and Weatherford, where proponent groups had used similar studies, and found that job creation and tax revenue estimates had not come to fruition and that sales tax revenue gains were difficult to track.
Stand Strong for Tyler members and other anti-alcohol individuals insist beer and wine sales will increase the number of alcohol related crimes, such as DWIs. However, a survey by Sheriff J.B. Smith of 25 jurisdictions which recently went wet concluded that such incidents either experienced no change or reduced. Texas Department of Public Safety studies have shown a reduction in alcohol related accidents and deaths in areas after alcohol was introduced.
Daniels said he has spent his career ministering to families and individuals with problems associated with alcohol and that more access means more problems.
Westbrook said alcohol is already in Tyler and Precinct 2, either in restaurants or from people driving into other areas. He said aside from the economic benefits, according to the numbers, the community will be safer. Westbrook said alcohol availability is also a “quality of life” question that employers and professionals consider when choosing a community to raise a family or create a business.
“It just makes sense on every level,” he said. “We wouldn’t be supporting this if we didn’t think it was the best thing for the community.”