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In addition to voters’ right to choose their political representatives during an election, most states, including South Carolina, offer an even more direct form of democracy known as a ballot measure.
Such measures, whether binding or non-binding, offer voters a chance to voice their opinions directly on a range of issues from constitutional amendments to questions about special local taxes.
When Lancaster County voters head to the polls for the general election Nov. 6, they’ll be asked to choose their stance on two ballot measures.
One measure is regarding local alcohol sales in restaurants on Sunday, the other on how the state’s lieutenant governor is chosen.
Sunday alcohol sales
The local issue on this year’s ballot is whether or not Lancaster County restaurants should be allowed to sell alcohol on Sundays.
Should it pass, the new ordinance would apply only to restaurants and would not allow Sunday alcohol sales at county stores.
Despite its legal language, which does not mention the words “Sunday” or “restaurants,” the measure is written in keeping with state law applicable to the issue of Sunday alcohol sales.
As a result, a vote of “yes” to the question counts as a vote in favor of allowing Sunday alcohol sales in county restaurants.
Should it pass, the measure would go into effect without need for approval by County Council, and restaurants would be able to buy allowable permits shortly after the measure’s certification.
Should it not pass, the measure would not be allowed back on the ballot for four years, and supporters would have to start the process again with a new petition.
The Sunday alcohol sales initiative began in August 2010 with Indian Land resident Elissa Boyet, who started a petition to have the matter decided as a ballot measure.
After her effort produced 4,770 signatures from county voters in support of the initiative, more than the requisite 10 percent, the Lancaster County Voter Registration and Elections Office certified the petition and the question was placed on the ballot.
What supporters say
After more than two years of working on the effort, Boyet said she “feels like she’s in the home stretch, in the bottom of the ninth inning of the World Series.”
In the past month, Boyet, along with a group called Citizens & Business for Lancaster County, have been working to inform voters about why they think the measure is a good idea.
For supporters, the issue is not so much about having a drink on Sunday as it is about choice and economic development, starting with new full-service restaurants.
“No one is trying to change anybody’s mind about if they do or don’t want to have a glass of wine with their meals on Sunday,” Boyet said. “It’s about choice. It’s your choice if you want to go out on Sunday or not, and by voting for this, you’ll have more options.”
While Boyet concedes alcohol may not be the main revenue source for most restaurants, she said it is a significant one that many restaurants depend on to increase sales. Boyet maintains that many Lancaster County restaurants that do sell alcohol won’t open on Sundays because the overhead is simply too high otherwise.
“They’re losing too much money to other counties that do allow alcohol to be sold on Sundays,” Boyet said. “They could be open if they wanted to, but business is not coming through their doors, and since they still have staff to pay and paper goods and stock to buy, they don’t open because it’s not profitable.
“And Sunday is the most popular day for people to go out to eat,” she said.
The economic argument Boyet and Citizens & Business make is that allowing Sunday alcohol sales will attract national full-service chains, most of which won’t open in a community without it. Some, they say, such as Long Horn Steakhouse and Olive Garden, are already aware of the issue in Lancaster County and watching for the outcome.
Supporters say not only would existing restaurants be able to increase their hours and payrolls, but new national chain restaurants would create scores of much-needed jobs in a county beset with high unemployment (12.4 percent as of August).
The economic impact would spread from there, they maintain, to food and beverage suppliers and other associated businesses. The new restaurants would also make the county more attractive to other service businesses, such as hotels, shops and amenities, which would make the county more desirable to new residents and new industries considering settling here.
“This is about economics ... This is strictly for restaurants only and it is their option,” Boyet said. “If they want to (sell alcohol), they can. If they offer customers that choice, they can make more money, hire more people, have more people coming in and we’re keeping our tax money in the county.
“We understand the language of the measure is confusing,” she said, “but you want to vote yes if you want to have choice and better the county.”
What opponents say
To date, no organized opposition to the ballot measure has emerged to counter the work of Citizens & Business for Lancaster County.
Instead, opponents have largely expressed their views publicly in the form of letters to the editor, and while not as vocal, their statements suggest the undercurrent of opposition may be strong.
Some, such as Heather Breedlove of Indian Land, wrote that they opposed the sale of alcohol on Sunday because it would erode already precious family time and result in more drunk drivers on the road.
Breedlove decried the effects new development would have on the county. She likened the effects of new national chain restaurants moving in to what has happened to small hardware and book stores in the wake of national chains.
“But my greatest question regarding this and any other development that people are pining away for is this: If you like the Indian Land/Lancaster County area enough to move here, why are you so adamant about changing it?” she wrote. “Wasn’t part of the charm of living here the rural settings? Less congestion? Less noise? Do we want U.S. 521 turning into a South, Independence or Roosevelt Boulevard (in Charlotte)?
“Some development and growth is always necessary for an area to survive and thrive, but if it isn’t controlled, the ultimate cost will be much greater than anticipated,” she wrote. “Will the money generated from alcohol sales be worth it? And again, what are we willing to pay for ‘progress?’”
The majority of opponents, however, say they oppose the proposal on moral grounds.
The Rev. Rex Faile, pastor of Lakewood Church in Lancaster, said the issue is one of keeping the Sabbath holy. He said the current proposal is the result of a slippery slope that began with County Council’s decision in 2009 to suspend the county’s blue laws, which prohibited most businesses from opening on Sunday.
“I stood there (before County Council) with other pastors and we opposed the suspension of the blue laws,” Faile said. “Had that not been done by our council at the time, this would be a moot issue anyway.
“We told the council at the time that alcohol would be next on the agenda ... and unfortunately, our prediction came true,” he said.
Faile, a business owner, questioned whether the suspension of blue laws has helped the local economy and called on County Council members to restore the county’s blue laws and “take the issue off the back of the people.”
Faile said, like it or not, for Christians in a community, the question is simply a matter of faith, of honoring and trusting God to take care of a community’s needs instead of the community trying to be “progressive beyond God.”
Using a well-known biblical reference, Faile said, “What does it profit a community if it gains the whole world and loses its soul?”
“The alcohol industry is a big industry; they make a lot of money,” Faile said. “But how much of the profits in the pocket of the alcohol industry profit us in our homes, in our communities with people who can’t handle their alcohol? I think it’s always been a moral question …
“I believe that if every professing believer in Christ who stands in agreement with the Scriptures will vote according to the Scriptures, this thing will never pass,” he said.
Accompanying the Sunday alcohol sales question is a measure on how the state’s lieutenant governor is chosen. The legislatively referred constitutional amendment was introduced in the 2011 S.C. Legislative session and approved by both the state Senate and House earlier this year.
The Amendment 1 ballot measure proposes two major changes to the state Constitution: That starting in 2018, a candidate for governor will choose a lieutenant governor as a running mate on a joint ticket; and removes the lieutenant governor as the presiding officer of the Senate, leaving the Senate to elect its own presiding officer from within the Senate body (See sidebar for the text of Amendment 1).
A “yes” vote on the ballot measure will be counted as a vote in support of the proposition that the governor and lieutenant governor should run on the same ticket and be elected jointly; and that the lieutenant governor will no longer be the presiding officer of the Senate.
A “no” vote keeps the current method in which the governor and lieutenant governor are elected separately, with the lieutenant governor keeping his or her duty as president of the Senate.
What supporters say
Supporters of Amendment 1 say the benefit of the proposal is that it will solidify and provide for more cohesive executive policy and maintain the agenda voters approved when electing the governor, should the governorship change during a term.
Lancaster County Republican Chairwoman Sandy McGarry said the GOP supports the amendment and that it is a great idea that is well past due.
“It just makes more sense to have them on one ticket and have them run as a team, just like the president and the vice president,” McGarry said. “It takes the politics out of it and puts it in one box.”
McGarry said the proposed amendment would strengthen the governor as the state’s chief executive. She points to the example of how Gov. Nikki Haley couldn’t get rid of former Lt. Gov. Ken Ard when he was indicted on ethics violations shortly before he resigned in March.
“The governor could have just stepped in and said, ‘you have to leave,’” McGarry said.
“I just think we need to come back up in the 21st century like the rest of the country as far as our government in Columbia,” she said. “We’re behind in that, and our governor needs the power to do what needs to be done.”
Officials with the Lancaster County Democratic Party did not respond to invitations to comment on the party’s position regarding Amendment 1.
In its fact sheet on the ballot measure, the S.C. League of Women Voters, in addition to the benefits noted above, said the amendment would “clearly define the leadership roles and authority (power) balance between the two legislative branches and that of the executive branch.”
The group goes on to note two cons: The process of electing the governor and lieutenant governor on the same ticket deprives voters of the opportunity to “vote for the person” rather than a party label; and some believe the single-ticket process places too much power in the hands of the governor.
For details on the Amendment 1 ballot proposal, visit http://www.scvotes.org/2012/08/14/2012_constitutional_amendment_question. For the League of Women Voters of South Carolina fact sheet on the amendment, visit www.lwvsc.org/whatsnew.html and click on link.
Contact reporter Reece Murphy at (803) 283-1151