By William Browning
WATER VALLEY – It’s official. Direct democracy is flourishing in Yalobusha county – at least when it comes to the sale of alcohol.
With a group of Yalobushians aggressively circulating a beer petition in hopes of legalizing beer in the county, another group has launched a petition aiming to see liquor banned inside the city of Water Valley.
As the law stands, beer is illegal countywide, while liquor is legal within the city limits of Water Valley.
“I’ve always felt it was sort of odd to be able to buy liquor in town, but not beer,” said Minister David Freeman of First Christian Church. “And we definitely support an effort to ban liquor in the city.”
The liquor petition originated at First Baptist Church in response to claims that a Christian-based logic of opposing beer and accepting liquor is hypocritical. The pastor at First Baptist Church, Randy Bain, mailed the petition to city churches roughly two weeks ago. Most of those churches – like First Baptist and First Christian – have set up booths within their halls, asking for signatures of those wanting to ban liquor in Water Valley.
“To be honest, we haven’t seen much of a response,” said Freeman. “I’m hoping to see more signatures come out of the next few weeks.”
Freeman added that he is against the beer petition.
“I know that having beer illegal in [Yalobusha county] won’t eliminate beer from being here in Water Valley, but it’s worth it,” Freeman said. “I’ve seen so many families torn apart because of whiskey and beer.”
While the liquor petition, in its infancy, may be having trouble gathering signatures, the beer petition has almost acquired the names it needs to be submitted to the Yalobusha County Board of Supervisors.
According to the Yalobusha Progressive Association (YPA), the beer petition has – with 1,700-plus signatures – exceeded the number of names its needs to bring the issue to a vote. (Legally, the petition needs no more than 1,500 signatures.) However, the group aims to continue promoting the petition until early September in order to amass as many names as possible in case some signatures are thrown out by election officials. The group also hopes to see the vote take place in the Nov. general election.
“On checking the names, I will do my job and follow the law,” Yalobusha County Circuit Clerk Daryl Burney said.
In order to be verified, a signature of someone signing a petition must match that person’s voter registration form.
According to Board of Supervisors Attorney John Crow, after the beer petition is formally presented to the Board of Supervisors, the board will have 60 days to present the public a ballot. Before presenting a ballot, the board will have the Circuit Clerk’s office verify the petition’s signatures. If the Circuit Clerk verifies 1,500 names, the petition will then be sent back to the board of supervisors, who will choose a date to have the vote. (The potential ballot will offer these choices: “I vote FOR coming out from under the dry law in Yalobusha County;” or “I vote AGAINST coming out from under the dry law in Yalobusha County.” A simple majority wins.)
The liquor petition, which addresses a city issue, will go through the City of Water Valley’s government, as opposed to the county’s.
Cliff Lawson is a member of the YPA – a group of “concerned citizens” and “business people” with 15-20 active members. (“But judging by the signatures on the beer petition, we’ve got supporters in the thousands.”) Lawson has signed the beer petition and said he will sign the liquor petition.
“I will sign [the liquor petition] for the same reason that I have signed the beer petition,” Lawson added. “It’s less a matter of the merits or shortcomings of buying or possessing alcohol; it’s about having a choice.”
“Everyone should see it as their civic duty to sign the petition, and then vote their conscience when it comes to a vote,” Lawson said.
“There are sound economic reasons [for the legalization of beer in Yalobusha county], but for me, it’s based on democratic process reasons.”