Keene goes to polls May 5 to decide issues of selling beer and wine

For the second time in 10 years, the residents of Keene are going to the polling booth to decide if they want the legal sale of beer and wine in their city. The alcohol would be consumed “off premise” only, meaning not at the point of sale.

Early voting started Monday and ends May 1. Election Day is Saturday, May 5.

The beer/wine issue was on the ballot Nov. 4, 2008, a Tuesday, when 914 ballots were cast in the race for mayor and seats on the City Council, but a whopping 1,466 ballots — the largest voter turnout in city history — were cast in Proposition 1, the ballot item for selling beer and wine in the city, which lost by a vote of 1,062 to 404, meaning that 552 voters (1,466 minus 914) were more concerned about the sale of alcohol in Keene than who represents them on the City Council.

The vote put a cork in the long necks of the Citizens for the Growth of Keene, defeating that group’s proposal for the sale of beer and wine in Keene by a staggering 658 votes — 72 percent.

This time, the issue is the only item on the ballot. The voter marks a simple “for” or “against” the issue.

The issue is contentious in Keene because of the city’s longtime association with the Seventh-day Adventist denomination that believes in the abstinence of tobacco, alcohol and drugs.

Basically Adventists believe the Bible teaches that each human body is a “temple of the living God,” which should be cared for intelligently (2 Cor. 6:15-17). Adventists urge everyone to follow a lifestyle that avoids tobacco products, alcoholic beverages, and the misuse of drugs.

When Subway located in Keene in 2008, it became the first business in the city to be open on Saturday, the Adventist Sabbath. It was soon followed by Dollar General, Sonic, Family Dollar and Mr Jims Pizza. Yet, all other businesses, including Pinnacle Bank, Keene Pharmacy, Hopps Automotive, General Insurance Service, Olivia’s Cafe, 360 Restaurant and Wash Depot remain closed on Saturday. The U.S. Post Office is one of three in the United States to be closed on Saturday.

It will be interesting to evaluate the voter turnout given Election Day is a Saturday. Already, many opponents are referencing the “ox in the ditch” from Luke 14, a situation (dire and requiring urgent and undivided attention to resolve it) taken from Luke 14 in which Jesus demonstrates to the Pharisees that some emergencies must be dealt with immediately, even if it means breaking the Sabbath to do so.

However, the demographics of Keene’s population of approximately 6,500 people is changing. City administrators indicate the percentage of Adventists is decreasing and may be about 50 percent or less at this time.
Those who are in favor of the sale of beer and wine build their platform on economic issues, including:

• Increased sales tax revenue. They are aware that all surrounding cities sell beer and wine and are especially cognizant of how Alvarado’s sales tax revenue skyrocketed after it passed a similar proposal. They see that income as the answer to paying off the new $5.6 million City Hall/Community Center, repairing the city’s plethora of potholes, continue to maintain a quality paid police force and fire department, and helping offset the highest water rates in the county.
• Attracting a grocery store. Proponents say even smaller-city chains such as David’s and Brookshire’s will not locate in Keene because they cannot sell alcohol. Beer/wine supporters believe attracting a grocery store will entice other businesses to locate nearby, especially along busy U.S. Highway 67, which offers some attractive sites.
• Keep property taxes low. Failure to take advantage of increased sales tax revenue will result in higher property taxes.
• The person who desires alcohol is going to purchase it where it’s available, and that might as well be Keene rather than the surrounding cities of Alvarado, Cleburne or Joshua.
• Keene is no longer populated by a majority of Adventists. In fact, one reason Keene isn’t growing, proponents say, is because there are no amenities such as a grocery store, thus no jobs for youth.  

On the other hand, many who are against the sale of beer and wine in Keene say they like the fact that Keene is the only dry city in the county, that many businesses close on Saturday out of respect for the Adventist Sabbath, and that Keene was founded on education and it’s important to educate others about the harmful effects of alcohol. They want to keep Keene different.

Many of those opposed to the proposition do not consider it a political issue. On a level with abstinence of beer and wine being a religious issue, they consider it a social issue, too.

Those against say while the physical and psychological harm that drinking causes the drinker is a concern, its crucial to understand how a person in the midst of a drinking problem affects others as well. We need to understand the social problems associated with alcohol abuse because they can be just as serious, opponents say. They contend that when a person abuses alcohol, he or she interacts with other people who will also be affected by that person’s drinking. It is unavoidable. More often than not, they say, that influence will be negative.

One opponent sites statistics from the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism that indicates alcohol’s effects vary from person to person, depending on a variety of factors, including how much the person drinks, how often, the person’s age, health status and family health history.

While drinking alcohol is itself not necessarily a problem, the NIAAA says, drinking too much can cause a range of consequences, and increase the risk for a variety of problems.

According to the NIAAA, alcohol enters your bloodstream as soon as you take your first sip. Alcohol’s immediate effects can appear within about 10 minutes. As you drink, you increase your blood alcohol concentration level, which is the amount of alcohol present in your bloodstream. The higher your BAC, the more impaired you become by alcohol’s effects. These effects can include: reduced inhibitions, slurred speech, motor impairment, confusion, memory problems, concentration problems, coma, breathing problems and death.

All forms of domestic violence are bad enough by itself, opponents say, but things are made worse when alcohol is added to the mix. The reality is that alcohol often leads to the physical and verbal abuse of spouses and partners.
Opponents say it is clear that the social problems associated with alcohol abuse are real and damaging.

They do not want to be the a resident of the city that made it a little more convenient for the drunk driver, spouse or child abuser, and poor decision maker.
What will Keene decide?

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