Wet/dry election set for Somerset
April 11, 2012 Share

Wet/dry election set for Somerset

“Wet” and “dry” minded alike, mark down Tuesday, June 26 on your 2012 calendar: That’s when you’ll want to head for the polls.
Tuesday, June 26 was officially set as the date for an option election in the City of Somerset where citizens will decide whether or not they want to allow the legal sale of alcoholic beverages in town.
County Clerk Ralph Troxtell confirmed the date for the Commonwealth Journal, following an executive order by the County Judge-executive Barty Bullock. The vote will apply only to registered voters who are residents of Somerset.
The election is a result of petitions filed by Progress Somerset, an organization formed by local citizen Dave Weddle with the goal of creating economic opportunities via the permission of alcohol sales.
Currently, Pulaski County and Somerset are “dry” — that is, the sale of alcoholic beverages is not allowed in any form. Burnside allows only individual drink sales at restaurants.
Troxtell said that his next step is to get the executive order to the sheriff’s office, which will post notices about the vote in different areas within the city limits. Troxtell will also be contacting Harp Enterprises in Lexington about printing the actual ballots.
Weddle said he’s “excited” that a date has been set now and likes that it’s so soon before the July 4 holiday.
“We can get aggressive, go out, and try to get as many voters to the polls as we can and let them make their choice,” said Weddle.
Though Weddle collected nearly twice as many signatures as needed to get the referendum up for a vote, it could be difficult for observers of similar votes around the region to get a handle on how Somerset’s could go. Earlier this year, Corbin voted to allow alcohol package sales, while neighbor London opted not to do so, sticking with individual drink sales only.

Just last week, voters in Rockcastle County said “no” to both, while those in the Caney Fork precinct of Pulaski County decided not to allow alcohol sales at the Eagles Nest Country Club.

That said, “I truly feel the trends are for it and not against it,” said Weddle of his goal of going “wet,” which would allow both package and individual drink purchases.

“There’s probably been a mindset change in a lot of people over the last 20 years, so I think most people realize that even if people have issues with drinking they’re going to find alcohol wherever they need it,” he added. “My personal feeling is, it won’t make any difference whether it’s sold in here or in Richmond other than travel time and where they money is being spent.”

Weddle said that he and Progress Somerset are currently developing strategies to help organize “young” voters — that is, ages 40 and under — and “bring the community” together for a goal of creating new jobs — “more restaurants, more wait staff, more cooks,” as Weddle pointed out.
“I think we want to use this election as a way to empower young people to get out and vote,” he said. “They know this issue. All they have to do is check yes or know. Hopefully it will spur young people to not only get out and do that now, but to engage them to vote in the future.”
The largest resistance to a “wet” Somerset has traditionally come from the religious community, and this latest round of the debate is no different. David Carr of the anti-alcohol group KIDS (Keep It Dry and Safe) said that local pastors have been organizing in opposition, having already had one meeting with another scheduled for Monday night.
Ed Amundson, pastor of High Street Baptist Church, is the new KIDS spokesperson. He said that while he and the other members of the group are “absolutely supportive of, and … deeply committed to the democratic process,” he hopes that “this time our resounding ‘no’ vote will send an incontrovertible message to the pro-alcohol lobbyists: ‘Not in our city! Not in our county! Not in our community! Not now … not ever!”
He added that, “KIDS is both well-organized and currently preparing to mount vigorous opposition to this and/or any other attempt to legalize the sale and distribution of alcohol in the city of Somerset of Pulaski County.”
Johnny Dunbar, pastor of Heritage Hope Church of God, added, “It is sad but not surprising that we are having to deal with this issue yet again in our community. We have been aware for several weeks that this was coming. … I believe that we are well organized and prepared to actively and passionately oppose the legal sale of alcohol in our fine community.”
On Friday, March 30, the petitions asking Somerset citizens if they wanted their town to go “wet” were returned to the county clerk’s office for certification. Weddle turned in 1,145 signatures, 984 of which were in favor of the referendum. Only 504 were needed to put the matter up for a vote.

By CHRIS HARRIS, Staff Writer

Commonwealth Journal