By William Browning
WATER VALLEY, Miss. – In just over a month’s time, the beer petition rambling through Yalobusha County has doubled its number of signatures.
With an assertive movement that includes setting up booths across the county – and could involve a door-to-door march – members of the Yalobusha Progressive Association have harvested 700 more names, bringing the total number of names to just south of 1,400.
The petition, which seeks to put to a vote the issue of selling beer in the county, needs 10 percent of all registered voters in Yalobusha County; or roughly 2,000 names. The county is currently beer-less, at least by decree.
And while the petition continues to get signed (averaging 150 signatures a-week), a liquor referendum – aimed at eliminating the sale of liquor in the county – is still in the works.
Dr. Randy Bain, pastor of Water Valley First Baptist Church, could be said to lead both the movement against the beer petition and the push to ban liquor in Water Valley. (Bain’s congregation of Baptists represents the largest in Yalobusha County).
“I believe that we can get, in a very short period of time, enough signatures to get a liquor referendum on the ballot in November,” said Bain, adding that the liquor petition is still being drawn up.
Bain said that he hopes, “in the next couple of weeks,” to meet with representatives from all area churches to drum up support for the liquor referendum. On an obvious note of optimism, the pastor noted that while the beer petition needs 10 percent of all registered voters in Yalobusha County, the liquor referendum only needs 10 percent of voters inside the Water Valley city limits. This liquor referendum would only encompass Water Valley
“And one strength we have,” said Bain, “is that we come together as a group every Sunday.”
Bain has been alluding to the circulating beer petition each week in his sermons at the First Baptist Church. (“I’m going to do it again this Sunday.”) And if it garners enough signatures for a county-wide vote, Bain said he will preach an outright sermon on the matter.
“I’ve never seen any good come from (beer),” he said.
And while those against beer – and the petition itself – all seem to do their thinking while kneeling, those in favor of the petition do their thinking in varying poses. Those in favor include supporters of a “democratic vote;” realists who say the county already has beer bottles in its ditches; those who cite the potential of increased revenue; and simple fans of beer and light wine.
Larry Joe Lindley doesn’t live in Yalobusha County.
“I don’t live here, so I can’t sign the (beer) petition,” said Lindley, 51. “But I made a $5 million investment in Yalobusha County. And I want what’s good for the area. I hope to see the beer petition succeed.”
Lindley is the owner and president of Lindley Investments. He owns “strip-centers,” “dollar stores” and truck terminals in Tallahatchie, Yalobusha and DeSoto counties.
“Yalobusha County is shortchanging itself,” said Lindley. “I mean it is surrounded by wet counties. Why do you think the first business you run into when leaving Yalobusha County on any road sells beer?
“It doesn’t make sense. You can go into a town and buy hard liquor, but you can’t by a beer,” said Lindley.
Kenny Taylor, who works for Lindley, does live in Yalobusha County. (“I’ve lived here my entire life.”)
“I have signed the beer petition,” said Taylor, 60. “Alcohol is already here. This whole thing is silly.”
Jack Gurner, Jr., of Water Valley, has also signed the petition. Gurner based his signature on the revenue the sale of beer could generate, and on the principle of voting.
“It’s something that I feel we should have the right to vote on,” said Gurner. “As a veteran, I am offended by someone trying to stop me from voting.
“I am pro-legalization. This takes more into account than just tax and sales revenue. (Legalizing the sale of beer) would open up so many other revenue streams.”
Gurner argues that opposing beer because of a moral stance is comparable to opposing “public bathing” and “dancing.”
“It comes across as backwoods,” he said.
“I have an interest in the economic progress of Water Valley. It works on all different levels. From the guy who is thinking about opening up a bait-and-tackle shop, all the way up to the president of a corporation. When someone is thinking about opening up a new business, when they see that beer illegal, they may not choose this area.”