So despite all the warnings that more access to alcohol would lead to more drunk driving accidents — despite the signs bearing emotionally manipulative images of fresh-faced children and begging voters to place their safety first and foremost — voters chose something scary indeed. They chose freedom.
They chose to allow Somerset citizens to buy beer in town, or to abstain from doing so, at their discretion. They chose to allow stores to opt to sell alcohol, or not. They chose to grant individual liberties, not restrict them.
In other words, they chose to honor the spirit of America, the spirit we proudly proclaim this Fourth of July — the spirit of increased freedom.
I owe an apology to David Weddle and Progress Somerset, because deep down, I doubted the effectiveness of their strategy. Weddle’s desire was to keep the argument on an intellectual level, to present facts and solid arguments about the benefits of alcohol sales, and let the public decide. Above all else, the aim was to keep the debate civil.
I believed that to beat a bully, one needs to be a bigger bully — and make no mistake, the “dry” side has historically been a “bully” in this debate. This year, I don’t think that was the case — the anti-alcohol contingent ran a campaign similar in tone and restraint to Progress Somerset’s — but in the past, stunts like lining the highway with wrecked cars designed to scare voters and threats to socially “out” or chastise “wet” voters have terrified people who supported alcohol sales into not speaking up.
We saw it with our economic development agencies, all of which took a neutral stance on the alcohol issue despite it being their charge to promote jobs and the flow of money in the area.
Yes, the agencies that should have been pushing the issue the most were staying out of it, because it was too controversial, too divisive. It’s hard to believe on the face of it, but it was true. And it’s because the mentality of fear that existed from past botched efforts to repeal prohibition in Pulaski County remained heavy on the psyche of so many in this community. Security trumps liberty yet again.