To make that future a reality, they’ll need to vote “yes” on Nov. 6 to legalize the sale of alcohol in the county. Thanks to a petition spearheaded by the nonprofit group Keep Dollars in Randolph County, the area, one of only two completely dry counties in Alabama, will have the chance to go wet.
“Revenue,” said Ron Young on Monday morning at The Missing Link Café in downtown Roanoke, where the group was hosting a press conference to kick off its campaign to get residents to vote “yes” on the referendum. “We need it for the economy, to grow businesses, create jobs.”
The vote will be on the Nov. 6 presidential election ballot, after the group was able to get enough signatures – 30 percent of the county's voter turnout in the last gubernatorial election – on its petition to hold the referendum. The petition was certified by the Randolph County Board of Registrars last week.
Young, the co-chairman of the group and owner of Wedowee Lake and Land Realty, said a study done by University of Alabama Birmingham School of Business estimated the county was losing more than $1 million annually in alcohol sales to surrounding counties.
“That’s our money, going to help build up other counties and cities,” said Mack Bell, a Roanoke resident, speaking at the event. “That’s revenue this county needs, to help schools, to bring in business.”
One of the counties capitalizing from Randolph’s lack of alcohol sales is Cleburne County, which voted to go wet four years ago.
Cleburne County Commissioner Ryan Robertson said that, logically, if Randolph County voted “yes” on alcohol sales, Cleburne would lose a lot of business.
“At Hollis Cross Roads, they sell alcohol there, there’s even a package store,” Robertson said. “They do a lot of business because it’s that last place to buy alcohol before you get to the river.”
Opposition to alcohol sales is strong among some residents within Randolph County, as well. Gerald Romine, a minister at the Church of Christ in Roanoke, opposed a 2008 measure and said he has already had organizational meetings to start a counter-campaign against the new referendum. In his view, the issue isn’t about revenue, it’s a moral decision.
“They talk about the money involved, but they never talk about the lives that are lost or ruined,” Romine said. “They’re always trying to paint a picture of how great it’ll be.”
Romine said his son was killed in 1983 shortly after his 19th birthday when he was struck by a drunk driver on Interstate 65.
“I have no use for alcohol,” Romine said. “We don’t need it in our county.”
After the failed campaign in 2008, Roanoke resident Stanley Allen took it upon himself to get alcohol sales in the city with a campaign last year that amassed more than 400 signatures.
But Allen’s campaign to turn Roanoke wet was doomed from the start because of legislation regarding referendums on alcohol sales.
In 2009, the legislature allowed any municipality with at least 1,000 residents to hold a referendum on alcohol sales if 30 percent of the voting population signed a petition asking for it. Roanoke, with a population of around 6,000, would have met those requirements, but Rep. Richard Laird, D-Roanoke made an exemption in the law excluding municipalities in Randolph and Clay counties from holding such referendums.
Allen said Monday if the county-wide effort fails, he’s ready to go back to trying to get legal alcohol sales in Roanoke, and will try to take Laird to court for, as he put it, taking away his right to vote.
“I’m hoping we get it through in November so we don’t have to worry about that,” Allen said.
Reached by phone Monday, Laird said his position on alcohol sales has been misunderstood. He said the reason to exclude municipalities in Randolph County from having individual referendums was based on the voting turnout from the county-wide referendum in 2008, in which a majority of Roanoke residents voted for the county to go wet.
“If Roanoke had its own referendum, it would preempt the county from ever going wet,” said Laird, who explained that Roanoke residents would be unlikely to vote in a county-wide election if alcohol sales were already available in the city.
Laird said as an elected representative, he didn’t want to pass legislation that went against what residents in the county wanted. And judging by the vote in 2008, he believed Randolph County wanted to stay dry, which is why he said he’s asking people to vote “no” come November.
“I’m for the people’s rights to vote,” he said. “And I’m also for my right to vote, and I’m going to vote dry.”
Star Staff Writer Brian Anderson: 256-235-3546. On Twitter @BAnderson_Star