Arkansas voters on Tuesday rejected a controversial measure that would have allowed alcohol to be sold statewide.
With 73% of the vote in, the Arkansas Alcohol Beverage Amendment was going down to defeat, 57% to 43%.
For many in this Bible Belt state, the vote was a referendum on urban versus rural life here.
Wet cities like Little Rock and Fayetteville are home to two-thirds of the state's 3 million people. Most of the rest live in dry counties or so-called moist areas where alcohol is sold only in private clubs. Amendment supporters call the alcohol-sales ban an unrealistic holdout from the Prohibition era and a discouragement for outside investment.
But groups such as Citizens for Locals Rights said the amendment was a tool for city-dwellers, who live in counties where alcohol is sold, to impose their will on their country cousins, robbing them of the ability to make decisions in their own jurisdictions.
The battle against the amendment brought about some unholy alliances: The state’s package store proprietors -- who thought statewide sales would generate too much competition -- joined preachers who said the amendment would help spread the evils of drink.
In some outlying communities, those who supported alcohol sales said they were singled out by local churches and other conservatives as “tools of the devil” and promoters “of the spirit of drunkenness.”
In tiny Mount Judea (pronounced "Judy"), near the Ozark National Forest, shopkeeper Denise King felt the wrath of neighbors and ministers when she petitioned for a ballot measure to turn Newton County wet. A petition campaign failed to garner enough votes for a county initiative so King through her support behind the statewide measure.
On Tuesday, the amendment fell behind in early returns, but King waited on a cold autumn night outside the courthouse in the county seat of Jasper as results came in. She said she would stay to the bitter end.
“Even if it ends like this and we go down to defeat, it was worth it,” she said. “Nothing ventured, noting gained.”
Hours before the results were final, Doyle Jackson, who runs a package liquor store in the tiny town of Possum Grape, said he was confident the measure would fail miserably.
Jackson runs 67 Liquor, located in a wet county, that draws customers from surrounding dry counties. Statewide alcohol sales would provide so much competition it might drive him out of business.
“I’d be shocked if it was even close,” he said. “All the churches are patting people on the back and telling them to go out and defeat this thing, so I think God is going to have his way on this one.”
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