Dry Counties Coalition Rally, May 30, 09 - 42 Counties Involved

(Key points are in bold font)

 

Introduction by Larry Thomas:

 

First because of the heat today, probably 30 to 35 minutes maybe a little longer or something like that is what we are going to try to do.  So you can just bear with us.  But we are not complaining about the sunshine, are we.  Okay another little bit of housekeeping.  We are welcomed to have signs by the Capital police.  Be sure if you see any litter on the ground before we go.  And your address, phone number, and email address.  This is for the future.  It will be a database for contacting, mail outs, etc.  This is just the beginning.  We are going to stay in contact with each other in the future.  When the laws need to be changed, we have got to be ready to act at a moment's notice, and that is the purpose of these addresses.  We will not sell them or give them to any other organization.

 

If you have signs and want to stand on the steps, come on up now.  It is time to start.

 

Thank you for coming to this meeting at the Capitol steps.  At last count we have over 750 here and I am confident that there will be over a thousand before the day is over.

 

Let me welcome the representatives to some of our universities in the state of Arkansas and how word got to them I don't know.  They represent themselves.  We have professors, teachers.  We even have vice presidents of some of our universities here in the state.  We welcome you here today.   We have physicians, lawyers, and if time will permit, some are going to be called to the state to speak to tell you what they have gone through when they have testified before the ABC Board.  And we also have an ABC board representative here so let's give them a hand wherever they are.  And you are welcome here, and you are safe.  Amen.  God bless American.   But most of all, thank you grassroots for being here today.  This is our issue, the grassroots in the dry counties in the state of Arkansas.  Thank you for taking time out and coming here today.

 

Thank you, Governor Beebe for allowing us to be here.  We thank Jonathan Reynolds who is in the Secretary of State's Department who takes care of the Capitol grounds here.  We thank the good state of Arkansas for allowing us to meet at the Capitol steps.

 

Thank you dry counties for all the work you have done.  There has been a lot of work going on behind the scene that nobody knows about.  This meeting today was thrown together haphazardly.  There is not really much organization to it.  I am asked if I am the organizer of this group.  No, I am just the man who grabbed hold of the tiger's tail as he ran by.   And I have been holding on for dear life since. I have to apologize to all of the people and organizations that have been working for this cause down through the years that I have not been able to get hold of because of time.   

 

MADD is here today. Mothers Against Drunk Driving.  I didn't have time to contact their coalition.  The AFA (American Family Association) is backing us, and I am sorry I didn't have time to give them an interview.  What you see is about 2 weeks work. If we would have had another two months, I believe we could have brought 5,000 people here to the Capital today.

 

Let me explain how we did come into existence.  We came into existence because of something that happened in Cleburne County that had to do with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC) - when all of the city officials of our community in Heber Springs and Cleburne County signed a petition, and some went before the ABC Board and testified against the Club that was about to be granted a license, or we assumed that it would be.  And because, in my opinion, of the rude treatment that they received when they were there, I am talking about Chiefs of Police, talking about County sheriffs, I am talking about mayors; I am talking about Councilmen that we don't believe got a fair shake.  And the only reason they were there was because of the safety of our citizens in Cleburne County, and that is why they took their stand for that and suffered because of their stand immensely.  And I applaud them for their courage and what they have stood for - for public safety in our area.  And I thank those people. Let me say that is not just for Cleburne County.  That is for many other counties in the same situation that have appeared before the ABC Board that, in my opinion, I feel like did not receive a fair shake; and their testimonies were not considered as it should be in the laws of our land.  Let me also make this clear. 

 

This is not a Prohibitionist RallyIf a person drinks, that is not my business, and that is not what we are here about today.  What we are here about today is alcohol permits being granted in dry counties.  That is what this is about.  You can hardly see the banner, but it says Dry Counties Coalition.  There are at least 42 of us in the state of Arkansas, and we are the majority of counties in the state of Arkansas, and we would like to keep them dry.

 

What it is all about is that 2nd sentence on the banner up there.  Too much alcohol in dry counties.  That is what it is about.

 

We are going to let our program begin.  We have some excellent speakers.  As I said before, this won't last but 30 or 40 minutes. And those that need to sit in the shade may do so.  We thank you that you are here. 

 

A lot of others who are elderly; a lot of people including my mother and father-in-law back in the 1940's and 50's voted Cleburne County dry but are still alive today, were not able to come.  That is who we are standing for for the voters and forefathers in our county that voted it dry.  We have some special speakers, and we are going to have some impromptu speakers if we have time.  We have some distinguished speakers from Searcy, Arkansas, from White County, from a dry county that they want to keep dry in the future and from Searcy, we have Mr. Ben Berry, and Dr. Pollard.  Dr. Pollard is a professor at Harding University.   Mr. Berry was an employee of International Paper for 41 years until he retired.  He received his Business degree from the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville and was a former football Razorback.   Ben, would you come and say a few words to us today?

 

(Did not transcribe Ben Berry's speech because of time)

 

Dr. Pollard, Professor at Harding University

 

Pollard:  Folks, it is so good to be here with you this afternoon, and I commend you for being here.  It says a lot about you and your values and your devotion to be here to sacrifice a lot of your time, effort, and energy.  I am not a lawyer; I am not the son of a lawyer; I am a son of a carpenter.  I am a teacher, and I can tell you one thing I can recognize a lack of common sense and judgment when I see it.

 

Recently I downloaded Act 1813, which is at the heart of this debate with the Alcohol Beverage Control Board (ABC).  I read that document, and this is the document of the basis of their giving out alcohol permits to restaurants in dry counties.  When I read this document, I was totally shocked.  Because the document is clear.  It is straight forward.  It is not all Gobbledygook.  I can understand it.  Not that I am a lawyer or anything like that.

 

It defines private clubs as non profit businesses. And this language is all the way through that document.  So here is my question.  Why are restaurants being given these permits to sell alcohol in dry counties?  Non profit.  Of course not.  They are out there to make money.  None of them are non profit.  And something stinks about this when the ABC interprets Act 1813 in that way.

 

Here is another interesting thing.  I downloaded the Rules and Regulations of the ABC Board.  And guess what.  How do they define a private club?  Just like Act 1813.  It is non profit organizations.  You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that the ABC's board's rules contradict their own book of rules and regulations.

 

There have been several legal challenges to these rulings on the ABC Board.  I am not going to go into those rulings; you can check that from sources.  You know you can download that.  But there have been some serious efforts legally to deal with this problem, and some of these have been well argued.  For example, one of them was appealed all the way to the Arkansas Supreme Court, which instead of ruling on the merits of the case remanded it back to the ABC Board.  Now that makes no sense to me because the thing was well argued; it was based on the facts of the case so I think this is just kind of politics as usual here in Arkansas is all I can read into that.  And the Supreme Court has put the fox right back into the hen house.

 

There are two or three observations I want to make about the ABC Board.  I wonder what their motivation is.  I don't know.  I can't read their minds and hearts.  But I do know this.  By granting alcohol permits to restaurants in the 42 dry counties opens up a new cash cow for the liquor industry. How do you explain it?  I don't know; maybe they can tell us. 

 

The ABC Board and the politicians who support them have no regard, I want to emphasize, no regard for the people who vote in dry counties and have done it over and over and over.

 

The ABC Board wants to do what the popular Democratic vote would not let them do, and that is to issue permits to restaurants in dry counties.  Our vote said No, and by their approach basically there are no more dry counties in Arkansas by any definition of the word.  In effect, due to the ABC Board all the counties in Arkansas are wet.  And the only thing lacking now are liquor stores and beer joints on every corner.  That is the only thing that is left.  It is a fact.  Your vote means nothing if a five man dictatorship can undo your vote and undo everything that you have voted for over the years.  And I thought I lived in America.

 

I have a few recommendations to make.  I won't go into all of these.  _____every step of the way if they are not.  That means no job, no beans, and no office. Another thing we can do, and I think the most important thing we can do, is to pray.  Let's not forget that.  Let's pray for the ABC Board that they will make their decisions without partiality to the liquor industry, and that they will rule fairly and justly.  And then more importantly, let's pray for God to raise up a David to take on this Goliath.

 

Larry Thomas:

 

All right:  I am ready to speak now.

 

How can alcohol be sold in dry counties is a question that has been asked me over and over and over again.  I understand it.  I have read the laws.  Dr. Pollard has read the laws and many of you have, and we understand what they said but even after I read the laws, and people ask me the same question again, "How can alcohol be sold in dry counties, I still have to throw up my hands and say I don't know."  It must be an injustice in our land and in the state of Arkansas today that alcohol is being sold in dry counties.  In the beginning alcohol could not be distributed in dry counties like from warehouses and things like this to other counties in huge volumes, large volumes, and it is still that way today.  It cannot be produced in a distillery in a dry county and then the time came along when the voters of the county voted that county dry that alcohol could not be sold in those dry counties. 

 

Well, the legislature had to come up with a way that people could serve alcohol in their living rooms and to their guests.  And also to very restricted organizations that had a restricted membership such as VFW,  the American Legion (I am just grabbing names out of the air that I can think of now) that having restricted membership knew their membership, and their membership was kept tabs on.  They knew exactly who they were by their being registered in the club.  That is the way it was in the beginning.

 

But for some unknown reason as time passed by, the ABC Board decided that that was not enough, that restaurants should also be able to sell alcohol.  Now the legislature has made rules and laws on that.  One is that you can't make a profit off that alcohol which is being sold, and we have just heard these read and he read those right out of the books and statutes; and I also have the same law here in my folder. 

 

But folks, things have changed.  Now let me ask you. When did you vote to allow alcohol to be sold in your dry county?  Can you give me the dates, the time, the year, the place that you enacted this law.  Well, how is alcohol being sold in dry counties.  Let me say folks; we have some laws.  We have learned this in the past.  When we have elected presidents in the past, one vote mattered and one vote counted; and I hope that our government recognizes that every vote counts in the state of Arkansas and that your vote counts.  

 

The Legislature has given the ABC Board tremendous power.  In fact in their area, they are almost sovereign.  They are supposed to take into consideration the law says, the testimonies of policeman, county sheriffs, mayors, of councilmen, etc. but I am going to give you example after example where those were thrown out the window. 

 

The Board is very powerful. If a county judge, if the mayor of the city, if the quorum court if all of these vote No on a restaurant receiving a new permit and if they themselves go down before the ABC Board and testify the ABC  Board has power over those local elected and appointed officials.  Friends, I believe that is too much power.  You don't have that much power, and I don't have that much power; and that is too much power invested in one agency, and the laws of our state can change that if the voters will do that.

 

Let me quote what one of our legislators said.  This is a quote off his website.  I will give you that website privately if you would come afterwards.  But this is a quote and I quote him.  He said this, one of our present legislators.  He was referring to Crawford County and specifically to the city of Conway and all the private clubs being granted permits there.  And he said this.  "Besides, only a handful of Faulkner County residents who had actually voted the county dry back in the 40's, are still alive today,  much less still living in Conway."  Now let me ask you.  When the voters vote a law into our land, when they die, does it do away with the law.  If you follow this to extreme, our founding fathers are dead.  George Washington is dead.  Ben Franklin is dead; John Hancock is dead.  Does that render the Constitution of the United States irrelevant?.  And you have a legislator that has made that quote.  Folks it is time for a change.

 

The same legislator, same article, same website, same day, May 19. "At any rate the new law has led to tens of millions of dollars invested in downtown Conway"  I hope that was not from profit off of liquor.  If that be so, somebody is in trouble because that is against the law of our states. 

 

For the life of me I can't  figure out how public restaurants can be considered private clubs; can make a profit off the sale of alcohol.  Our laws say there must be a pool and locker system. In other words,  any monies, any profits made is to go into the purchase of the pool of alcohol.  Also there is to be a locker system, a separate set of records and books, a place to put this money separate from the restaurants' profits  from the sales of food, etc. that they sell there and that is supposed to be kept separate.  That is the law of our land.  So I hope that those tens of millions of dollars, which  sounds like a lot to me, was from the traffic that maybe purchased dresses, or suits, or something like that while in Conway.  I hope so.   I will have further comments later.

 

Josh, let me straighten you out.  If you want to drink, that is your business, Josh, that is not my business, not our business.  That is not what this is about.  This is about the sale of alcohol in a dry county over a vote of the people that  have never voted again but only the legislators and only the interpreters of this so called  sovereign board,   called the ABC Board that has allowed alcohol to come into a dry county.  That is what the issue is and that is why we are here on the steps today.

 

Did you know that when the legislature passes a law concerning alcohol, they do not interpret that law; but they rather turn it over to guess who?  The ABC Board.  The ABC Board interprets that law to see how to enforce that law and to see how the law applies.

 

Let me read you the law that our dear brother Dr. Pollard referred to just a moment ago,

which I have been told and I do have the words and quotes from KAIT TV in Jonesboro that one of our legislators was not aware that he was voting to turn this over to restaurants in dry counties. 

 

The intention was in the beginning for it to be (and here is what Number 2 says of law 3-9-221 Private Clubs.  "Many individuals traveling to this state assemble at regional meetings and conventions to associate with other individuals who are members of professional and social organizations and that (in other words the beginning of the new law was intended for huge convention centers perhaps people traveling from overseas to talk about trade here in Arkansas convention centers you are getting the idea here.  "Many of the restaurants and entertainment facilities used for the meetings and conventions promote the hospitality of the host communities where the restaurants, conventions, and facilities are located."

 

In other words, it was intended for something  huge such as this;  but the ABC Board interpreted it to mean any local restaurant, no matter what kind of restaurant it is.  

I have heard the word "fine dining" until I am tired of hearing it.  It doesn't mean anything.  So that was what the law was intended to do. 

 

But there is something called a saving clause or sever ability clause that says the ABC Board has power over any city council, any county quorum court; over any county judge, any Chief of Police, that the ABC Board is sovereign and its rule is final.  And even taken to the next step in court, all the court can do is review the procedures that the ABC Board went through and cannot rule whether that Club can or cannot have a permit.  That is then referred back to the ABC Board.  They can only refute policy in the procedure at the court level.  So you see what I am trying to say.  The Board is powerful, too powerful.

 

Let me warn you if you go to the ABC Board to testify, don't ever use the argument of morality.  It is against the rules of the Board.  I tried that one time though, and they cleaned my plow and rightly so because that is the rules before the Board.

 

But you know, I think just because a person has a moral conviction about this, shouldn't they be able to reveal that to the public and speak in the public about it?  Just because a person may be religious and perhaps a member of a church, and I am sure there are a few church members here today.  Does that mean that we cannot testify before the ABC Board, and they will not give us a fair hearing.  If that is the case, then something needs to be changed.  George Washington said this.  "Our form of government cannot survive without a Judeo Christian morality."

 

Let me ask this question.  Would the ABC Board allow George Washington to testify before it? 

 

I have here some fine testimonies that  am going to read to you.  Folks, it has been hopeless the last few months.  I am going to ask Paul Gant to come up here right now.  He is a lawyer from Vanburen, Arkansas.  Paul and I haven't planned this.  I have no idea what he is going to say.  So brother you are on your own as far as legality is concerned.

 

I don't know how many attorneys I have talked to in our state that told me it is useless;  it is a waste of time to go down there any more.  We don't carry any weight.  Mayors don't carry any weight.  Sheriffs don't carry any weight.  Police chiefs don't carry any weight. We have no clout.  They make their rulings, and it is hopeless.

 

I am going to ask Paul Gant  to just tell what happened to him when he testified not too long ago.

 

Attorney Paul Gant

 

Thank you, Larry.   Larry and I met just a few moments ago.    Crawford County, next to Sebastian County & Ft. Smith, has been a dry county since back in the 40's.  My father before me was a prosecutor there, and I was later.  I also have my law practice in Vanburen.  It has been there  for 35 years.  I also sit one day a week as Judge for the city of Alma, and I have standing room only every Tuesday  in my court.  I deal with domestic relations matters day in and day out in my practice.

 

All my life I have been told that the reason I am against alcohol is because I am a Christian and because I am a Baptist. That doesn't have anything to do with it except for the fact that I don't believe I could win anyone to the Lord with a can of beer in my hand.

 

That being said, if they sat across the desk that I do and see the homes and families that have been broken because of alcohol.  If they would see the individuals that I have to put in jail that cannot pay  their fines because they are DWI 3 and yet they have got children they can't take care of all because all because of alcohol.  That doesn't have anything in the world to do with me being a Baptist.  Not anything.   That is common sense.

 

Now, obviously I have strong feelings about it, so when that has come up in Crawford County before, we have been successful in having that turned away - by following the procedure that was represented to us   and that is get this mayor, this sheriff, this public official, as Larry said, to come and oppose it, and a few people on the bus; and it will be done with it and that is it.

 

Well, something got in the way, and they change the rules as they go along.  I will tell you that we were treated nicely by at least a couple of the board members, very nicely matter of fact.  But they were offset tremendously by a couple of the members of the Board.

 

One of the things that I require in my court is some form of order, some form of right, some form of due process that is guaranteed to each and everyone of us.  As soon as I asked a question of the applicant in an adversarial way, J. J. Vigneault attacked me like an animal.  And it was obvious that he could not spell "due process,"  and he did not understand that I had a right to ask this applicant any question I wanted to.

 

For example, where did you get these signatures after we have worked and got five and  six thousand signatures in our community of Vanburen.  Where did you get yours?  I could not ask him that question. 

 

And yet they came in with boxes of signatures at the last minute. I mean, it was not even a close ballgame before then.  Not even close.  Where did they get them?  We were having a Little League World Series in Vanburen at that time, and many of the parents were from all over the United States.  They  chose to go to Sebastian County to either stay for the night and  went to restaurants where alcohol is served.  They took their kids in there you know public restaurants that we see every day.  And our applicant [for private club alcohol permit]  went to Sebastian County to every establishment that served alcohol and got families to sign their petitions while they were drinking in a non dry county and did not live in the state of Arkansas.

 

Was that represented or explained to the ABC Board?  No,  because they were not permitted to review that.

 

We were told at the very beginning like Larry said.  Don't come in here and tell us your stories about alcohol.  Don't tell us about the deaths and the damage and the problems.  We are not permitted to hear that.  I don't know where that is written because it is not written anywhere in the law that I am aware of.  But in any event they make that very clear.

 

And when J. J. Vigneault got on me and said,  "How much are you being paid?" He could ask that, but I could not ask where those petitions came from.  How much are you being paid.  I said " Mr. Vigneault, I am not being paid one dime."  Vigneault said, "You are down here for nothing."  No,  I am down here to represent these people that are here today.  He could not understand that.  He just could not understand that.

 

Then he was quick to tell me if I wanted to be Perry Mason to go back to Crawford County.  Guys, we need some change.  I have since written the Governor.  Governor Beebe and I were at law school at the same time, and his administrative assistant and I were in law school the same time, practiced in Vanburen, and I know them personally.  I wrote them a letter and I said whatever you do, please don't reappoint J. J. Vigneault  to any commission; to any Board.  He couldn't win a race against a Texas fan in the state of Arkansas.  But he can be appointed to commission after commission and Boards.

 

Now guys, there is a reason for that.  Then you look and see how he is connected to the alcohol industry and lobbying system, and then he is sitting on the ABC Board.   In the legal profession, which is attacked every day, we are to avoid the appearance of impropriety.  And that commission as a whole I am telling you there are a couple of good folks on that commission, but there are those on there that are more than an appearance of impropriety.   End of his speech.

 

Larry Thomas:

 

In two or three minutes we are going home.  I know it is hot.  Friends, the Dry County Coalition is not going away.  We are here to stay.  We are here to work.  We are going to do what is right in the future.  We are going to stand up for our forefathers who voted these laws in.  We are going to stand for those that have voted that are dead and can't vote anymore.  We are going to stand for what is right in the state of Arkansas, and we are here to stay. 

 

The ABC Board is fixing to come under more scrutiny than it ever has since its conception.  And let me say if there is one regulation that they have failed to keep, we have lawyers friends, you have judges that have your sympathy that have just spoken at this podium here today.  You have lawyers; there are college vice presidents that are in the crowd today that stand behind you.  We are not alone.  We are together on this thing, and we are going to make some changes and we are going to win in the future.

 

If the ABC Board has one bit of discrepancy in it, we are going to uncover it.  Our investigators are going to uncover it, and it is going to be brought to light; and it is going to be brought to the public.

 

For example, this is one situation.  If any of those Board members are employees of the alcohol lobbyist or alcohol industry, it is going to be brought before our board of lawyers, the Dry County Coalition; and if there is a conflict of interest found, it is going to be carried through the courts of the state of Arkansas. 

 

We are prepared to go to the Supreme Court of the state of Arkansas.   This is a beginning.  It is not over with.  We are here to stay and Vann Harness is going to give you instructions as you leave today.  We are going to form a database with thousands and thousands and thousands of email addresses in it.  We are fixing to get the wires hot to our legislators, to our  Governor.  And Governor Beebe has already agreed to have a meeting with the Committee from this Coalition.

 

Friends, let me say a good word about Governor Beebe.  This is not his fault.  This started way before he ever got here.  This Board is not totally appointed by him. He has, I think, one member that he has appointed on this board.  I think he is an honest man, a fair man, and I believe this judge and this attorney ought to be one on that committee that talks to his friend, Governor Beebe.  That is the kind of people we re going to put on this board.  It is not going to be a bunch of fanatics.  They are going to be legitimate. They are going to know the law;  they are going to be able to talk the laws with our Governor and with  those that represent him in this meeting.  I promise you your voice is going to be heard in that  meeting.

 

Where do we go from here and what do we do.  Vann Harness is going to take two minutes to tell you.

 

Vann Harness

 

This has been an outstanding rally.  We appreciate all who have spoken. Where do we go from here.  First of all, our rally means little unless we stick together and work tirelessly until change occurs.   As we gold you earlier, we want everyone to be sure to give your name, address, and your email address on that slip of paper and put in one of these boxes as you exit.    That is so important because we want to get in a network, in a database so that we will have literally hundreds and eventually thousands of names across the state of Arkansas to network together to bring change to our state.

 

Where do we go from here?  There are several routes that we can taken.  Not necessarily in this order.  One is  the leadership route?  We do plan to meet with the Governor and even the ABC Board if they are willing to meet to sit down and see if we can work out something.

 

If that is not productive, we can go the legislative route meet with the legislature and see if they will clean up the existing law or repeal the existing law, or give us a new law.  If that doesn't work, then we can go the legal route.  And I cannot help but believe that most of us today  believe that private club alcohol permit procedures are way beyond what the law,  in regard to this initiated Act One, will allow.  That is the Wet Dry County Act.  Good lawyers taking the case -  we believe there are some legal routes we can take that will make a difference.

 

Last of all, and we hope that it will not come to this, but if it does, that's fine.  You good folks will be willing to do it.  That is the law making route.  We can do our own Initiated Act, and we can do our own Constitutional Amendment if it comes necessary.  An Initiated Act will take approximately some 63 or 64 thousand signatures, and you need to get 72 thousand to 80 thousand in order to guarantee that you have enough valid signatures.  The Constitutional Amendment will require 80 thousand plus signatures and you need to collect over 100 thousand signatures to make sure you withstand  the count on that.  Whatever is necessary, whatever the route, we need to clean up and we need to change the dry county process of granting permits for alcohol in dry counties. 

 

As a pastor, like the judge was saying, I personally have had to deal with alcohol problems in my own family.  As a pastor of nearly 30 years, I can't count the number of times I have had to deal with families where alcohol has devastated the family.  How many of you right here today have a family member, you yourself, a friend, a neighbor, or co-worker have had a problem with alcohol where you live?.  How many of you?

 

I hope the cameras are here today to  pan this crowd.  Everyone here knows someone or has had someone with a problem.  Folks,  you see these hands raised.  That is why we have voted our county dry!  We have plenty of problems with dry counties with alcohol already.  We do not want any more.  Private club alcohol permits flood our counties with more alcohol.

 

Thank you for coming.  Be sure to put your name in the box.  God bless you, and we will let you know when we are going to meet and what we are going to do next.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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