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Georgia View: The Sunday Booze Blues

 

Gov. Nathan Deal signed SB 10 into law in April, allowing “home rule” referendums for localities to determine if they will allow the Sunday retail sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits.  

Advance voting is under way now across Georgia for the November 2011 General Election. Near the bottom of those ballots in almost 100 Georgia cities and counties will be local referendums on Sunday sales. 

Former Gov. Sonny Perdue stood four-square against Sunday sales, but even following his departure early this year, there were several points at which SB 10 was at death’s door. Tips of the hat to Jim Tudor of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores, Kathy Kuzava of the Georgia Food Industry Association, the Local Option for Sunday Sales Coalition and the grassroots organization Georgians for Sunday Alcohol Sales for their work in getting the local option bill passed and signed into law.

Connecticut and Indiana are the only other states still prohibiting Sunday retail sales, while our Big Red State clings to the last of its blue laws.

Loganville in Gwinnett County and Sandy Springs in north Fulton County were the first cities to authorize local votes. Initially a trickle followed, and then a late flood after Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signed a measure in September placing the question on the November 2011 General Election ballot.

Municipal elections occur in odd numbered years, such as 2011. However, the bulk of Georgia’s largest cities do not have pending races for mayor this year. As a result, Sunday sales will likely receive more attention during this lower turnout election.

Yet another ballot question is whether school systems in Cobb, DeKalb, Fulton and the cities of Atlanta and Decatur will keep their additional penny of Education SPLOST, which may become the second most discussed issue of the 2011 election cycle.

Our Georgia Lottery narrowly passed by Constitutional Amendment referendum in 1992. Once it became legal, the lottery sold 52 million tickets its first week and racked up more than $1 billion in sales its first year. But making it legal was awfully close.

The late ballot rush this year appears more driven by the possibility of competition and lost revenue than anything else. With several north Fulton municipalities already voting on Sunday sales, the Atlanta City Council watched a ring form around the city; it began to look increasingly like Atlanta might get left behind.

Another factor in decisions to get the Sunday sales issue on the ballot this year is that the voting base for the 2012 Presidential Preference Primary, General Primary and General Election are decidedly different.

As President Barack Obama at this point has no announced Democratic opposition, there will be only a Republican Presidential Preference Primary in March. Georgia is an open primary state, but the bulk of those voting will either be Christian conservatives or rank-and-file GOP voters. Although far from monolithic, this is not a crowd one might consider enthusiastic for Sunday sales.

The Presidential Primary may still draw 1.5 to 2 million voters, but it will probably be outdrawn by the summer General Primary for selecting nominees for seats in Congress as well as the Georgia General Assembly.

It stands to reason that the larger turnout elections, with more independent and fewer socially conservative voters (or that base’s being watered down by a larger electorate), seem to be the safer bet for winning on the Sunday alcohol sales issue. This fall the largest likely voting block in Metro Atlanta will be schoolteachers, many voting to maintain that Education SPLOST penny. Right behind them will be senior citizens, the state and nation’s most reliable voting block.

In a low-turnout municipal election year, one can easily envision teachers and seniors seeing more pluses than minuses in giving the last of Georgia’s Blue Laws the boot. Although the larger turnout next fall might deliver a safer and broader demographic, all the focus on the White House and top-of-the-ticket races might mean significant voter fatigue and non-voting at the bottom.

I’m taking the safest bet and just going ahead and stocking up on my favorite beverages. My hometown won’t be voting this fall, but for those of you who are, bottoms up!

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