Moment of truth closing in for wet, dry forces
June 25, 2012 Share

Moment of truth closing in for wet, dry forces

With Tuesday’s potentially landscape-altering alcohol vote looming, key figures from both sides of the debate are weighing their chances in the last weekend before the public decides.

When asked respectively how they felt about their sides’ chances in the option election Tuesday, allowing voters in the City of Somerset to choose if they would allow alcohol sales (both by the drink and retail package sales) in the town, both David Weddle and Ed Amundson expressed optimism.

Weddle, founder of Progress Somerset, the pro-alcohol sales organization which put the issue on the ballot, said of his outlook, “I feel great. I feel really positive.”

Amundson, pastor at High Street Baptist Church and spokesperson for the anti-alcohol group KIDS (Keep it Dry and Safe) used a more measured term: “Cautiously optimistic.”

Whichever side comes out on top, voters should perhaps avoid expectations of a blowout.

“Our polling looks like it’s tight,” said Amundson. “If we go by some of the other votes that have happened (several surrounding communities have recently had similar ‘wet/dry’ elections), we’re looking at 30-38 percent turnout, let’s say 40 percent. That’s maybe 3,800 or so votes (in Somerset).

“So the question is, do we have 51 percent of that? In the last election (in 2000), the city went 1,900 or so against to 1,300 or so for. Only one precinct that I’m aware of voted last time in favor (of alcohol), that was the one around the courthouse.”

Weddle said that the polling and canvassing his group has done has shown an approximate 2-1 margin in favor of going “wet” in Somerset. He said Progress Somerset has canvassed four or five times, and hasn’t hit every neighborhood but has tried to focus on places where “maybe the message wasn’t getting out” to residents there.

“Most of them have been very positive; even the people who are against it have been very cordial and nice,” said Weddle. “Down to brass tacks, I think both sides will really have to wait to see what happens.”

Religion has taken on a heavy role in this debate, with many local churches and clergy leading the charge against alcohol from the pulpit, and ads in the newspaper, with one claiming that “a ‘YES’ vote … will be a curse,” accompanied by Biblical scripture. Weddle said that his side does “not think that this is truly a religious issue at all” and that “those people making it a religious issue are, from our perspective, misguided.”

Amundson, meanwhile, says that a claim put forth by the “wet” forces that Somerset would have “safer streets” is off-base, based on what Amundson suggested are skewed statistics.

“The problem with the entire campaign is misinformation and looking at information from one’s particular voting viewpoint,” said Amundson. 

The two sides have both decided to cool their push in the past few days, with a few exceptions. Progress Somerset operated a station from Weddle’s business’ front porch in downtown Somerset during Saturday’s Somernites Cruise event, handing out water bottles with the “YES” logo emblazoned on them and informational pamphlets. He also said that by contacting Progress Somerset, anyone who needs a ride to the polls Tuesday can get one.

Amundson said the local churches had planned a countywide prayer and fasting on Monday, and the “dry” forces would have “a contingent at the courthouse” on Tuesday, but “after Saturday, we’ll rest and wait for the will of the people.”

Amundson said that the “dry” side has been preparing both acceptance and concession speeches for however the vote goes, and said the “elements will be the same” for both.

“First things first, we plan to urge the citizens of Somerset that this has been a divisive election, but we were citizens before this and regardless of the outcome, we’ll be citizens after this, and neighbors and co-workers, and we need to come back together and be a community.”

Amundson thanked Progress Somerset for “what has been a relatively respectful campaign,” and thanked the churches who had supported his side as well as politicians such as judge-executive Barty Bullock, and Mike New and Jerry Girdler of the Somerset City Council.

“Regardless of the vote, they showed themselves willing to stand up for what they believe in, and that’s admirable,” said Amundson.

The question on the ballot is short and to the point: “Are you in favor of the sale of alcoholic beverages in Somerset, Kentucky?” Voters in favor will put an “X” in the “Yes” block and voters opposed will mark the “No” block.

Pulaski County Clerk Ralph Troxtell said only paper ballots will be used for local option voting. Since this is a special election, the federally required machine for physically challenged that records votes electronically will not be in the voting booths. Paper ballots used in the election will be readily available in case of a challenge, Troxtell said.

Troxtell noted that anyone who has lived in the county but outside Somerset and is registered to vote but has moved into the city limits and has not yet had their address changed may still participate. They will need to provide their current address within the Somerset city limits and sign a “voter’s oath” card, the supplemental roster at the voting precinct to which they’ll be directed, and will have to put down an address change. The “voter oaths” will be turned over to a grand jury to check of any potential fraud.

Precincts involved in the wet-dry election, number of eligible voters in each precinct and voting places are:

Somerset 1 –– 624. Pulaski County fiscal courtroom at the courthouse.

Somerset 2 –- 387. Somerset City Hall.

Somerset 3A –– 641. Somerset Family Fitness Center (former YMCA), 100 East Somerset Church Road.

Somerset 3B –– 520. Basement of courthouse.

Somerset 3C –– 118. Somerset Family Fitness Center (former YMCA), 100 East Somerset Church Road.

Somerset 4A –– 609. South Central Fire Station.

Somerset 4B –– 1,343. Meece Middle School.

Somerset 4C –– 102. Meece Middle School.

Somerset 5A –– 714. Memorial Learning Center.

Somerset 5B –– 476. Somerset Housing Authority.

Somerset 5C –– about 545 (some 40-45 additional voters along a section of Monticello Street do not live in the city limits). Somerset Mall.

Somerset 5D –– 240. The Neighborhood, 100 Neighborly Way.

Somerset 5E –– 364. The Neighborhood, 100 Neighborly Way.

Somerset 6 –– 1,051. Rocky Hollow Recreation Center.

Burnside County 36A –– Two voters in this county precinct live within the corporate limits of Somerset and are eligible to vote at Somerset Mall.

Gilliland 40 –– 13 voters in this county precinct live within the corporate limits of Somerset and are eligible to vote at Eagle Heights Church.

Saline South –– One voter lives in this county precinct and is eligible to vote at Oak Hill Elementary School.

Polling places open at 6 a.m. June 26 and voting will continue until 6 p.m. Walk-in absentee voting began at the county clerk’s office on Monday, and requests for mail-in absentee ballots may be made through June 15.

“Vote, vote, vote,” declared Amundson. “Don’t assume anything. Get out and vote.”

CJ Staff Writer
Commonwealth Journal