Cash-Strapped Communities Weaken Opposition to Alcohol Sales

National Prohibition, a failure in many ways, was "a success from a public health perspective," according to George Hacker, a critic of alcohol marketing, who says that less drinking translates into everything from less liver disease to less spouse abuse.

Alcohol laws, however, change in only one direction: Dry places go wet — in Texas, wets have won 80 percent of alcohol elections over the past seven years — but not vice versa: One wet town has gone dry. Wets "keep coming until they get what they want, and they only need to win once," Godfrey says. After a tough election, "church people often say, 'We fought that battle. We're tired. We're gonna move on.'"

There are places in Dry America, however, that won't go wet without a fight.

Mount Pleasant Stays Dry

Waylon Moore arrived at the supermarket in Mount Pleasant, Texas, one day last year to find people collecting signatures on a petition. Their goal: Force an election on whether to allow retail sales of wine and beer and loosen restrictions on alcohol in restaurants.

Moore, 68, a storage business owner and leader of Highland Park Baptist Church, takes seriously the biblical injunction, "Be ye not drunk with wine."

"My grandfather was a bad drinker," he recalls. "Growing up, I saw what it did to him. Every Saturday he'd go into town."

Moore doesn't drink and wanted to keep it out of his town. But how? There were two different approaches.

The Highland Park Baptist youth group decided to make a video about the dangers of alcohol for teenagers. They staged a scene that had three kids in a car drinking, followed by shots of a wreck and a cemetery plot. There were allusions to the local election, including shots of yard signs and a group of wet proponents, and the warning, "People want to change our town for the worse."

The group showed the video at church, where it was praised, and posted it on YouTube, where it was not. Jessica Armstrong, 15, was shocked by comments posted — almost all negative, most rude, some profane. Worse, she says, was the trash talk at school, where the youth group members feel outnumbered by kids who think it's cool to drink.

The reaction to the video showed that even in East Texas, buckle of the Bible Belt, temperance has become countercultural. Why, the wets asked, should Mount Pleasanters have to drive 15 minutes to neighboring towns? Why should Mount Pleasant forgo the tax revenue?

And Mount Pleasant wasn't really dry. Several restaurants serve alcohol and have bars. They must organize as a "club" and serve only "members," but anyone can join on the spot.

Concluding that a frontal assault on alcohol would backfire, the dry campaign that Waylon Moore headed — "Mount Pleasant Cares" — stuck to a carefully tailored message.

"We never mentioned beer or wine," says Vatra Solomon, a local resident and political consultant who advised the drys. "We talked about children and safety and a healthy environment — those buzzwords. A lot of people like a glass of wine at dinner or a beer watching the Cowboys. We couldn't afford to offend them."

Although the wets had the financial edge, with support from Wal-Mart and several supermarkets, the result was a rout: 70 percent against beer and wine sales, 65 percent against easier restaurant sales.

Moore hopes the margin means the wets won't try again soon. If they do, Mount Pleasant is ready to be the dry Alamo: "We've saved our 'Vote No' signs," he says.

Winona Goes Wet

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