Consultant says they have enough signatures for prop – Minden Press-Herald
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Consultant says they have enough signatures for prop

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A petition campaign to get alcohol sales propositions on the Minden ballot began in mid-July with booths set up at Walmart and Brookshire’s in Minden. In recent days, citizens report the petitioners have gone door to door, and the effort seems to have succeeded.

For the legality of low and high-content alcohol sales by both restaurants and grocery stores to reach the ballot this December, signatures representing at least 25 percent of the registered Minden electorate must be gathered within a 60-day time frame.

The initiative has been pushed by Hatch Consulting Group, a Texas-based firm specializing in local option elections since 2003. John Hatch, the company’s co-founder and president, said the signature threshold has been reached in Minden.

“We’re over the number of signatures we need to certify, and we’re basically just getting more cushion before bringing it in,” Hatch said Tuesday.

As reported in July when the petition began, Louisiana law requires that all five alcohol sales propositions be brought to an election at the same time. Voters still decide on each proposition individually, but they must all be on the ballot, with one exception several years ago.

“The Louisiana legislature passed a bill that allowed us to hold a special election in January of 2004 with just one of those [propositions] on the ballot,” said Minden Mayor Tommy Davis. “That was basically the restaurant version.”

The version that has been on the books in Minden since 2004 allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages, regardless of alcohol content level, only in restaurant establishments that have been issued an “R” permit.

Of the four remaining propositions not currently in effect, one allows the package sale of beverages containing six percent or less alcohol, another allows the individual sale of such low-content beverages for consumption on the premises, the third allows the individual sale of any drink for consumption on the premises, and the fourth allows the package sale of any content-level drink. This fourth proposition is the one Walmart and Brookshire’s are actually targeting, but each of the others must join it on the ballot to be voted on individually.

In other words, if the petition is deemed legitimate and the propositions go onto the ballot in December, the range of possible outcomes is extremely wide. Depending on how the citizens of Minden vote, the city could become completely dry, losing its ability to sell drinks in restaurants, or it could become completely wet, allowing for package sales of any content-level drink in stores like Walmart and Brookshire’s as well as individual sales in any establishment, restaurant or not. Any combination of the two extremes within the five propositions is also possible.

Hatch Consulting Group is pushing petitions in six municipalities across the state, including Ruston and Bossier City. According to an interview between Hatch and the The Peach 99.3 radio in Ruston, Hatch has been doing local option alcohol elections since 1999. Since Hatch Consulting formed in 2003, they have conducted over 300 such efforts across the country with an 84% success rate. Past clients include restaurants like Chili’s and Applebee’s.

Hatch said even though his group is paid to serve the interests of the Walmart and Brookshire’s corporations, the end result would be financially beneficial for the community as a whole.

“The bottom line is this is an economic issue,” he said. “Walmart and Brookshire’s clearly want to be able to sell beer, wine, and spirits. For every dollar a grocery store loses in alcohol sales, they lose three dollars in general sales, which is about $25,000 to $150,000 a week in lost sales. From a taxpayer standpoint, by keeping those sales locally, that keeps the tax revenue local.”

If Hatch’s one-to-three ratio is correct, Walmart and Brookshire’s would each have to make $6,250 on alcohol sales per week to achieve the low end of Hatch’s estimates.

One criticism of the petition effort voiced by many, including editor/publisher David Specht in a past editorial, is that this movement, while claiming to benefit the consumers and taxpayers of Minden, is being delivered by outside sources. Hatch Consulting is based in Texas, and the workers manning the petition booths and going door to door are out-of-town contract labor.

To quote Specht’s column, “I have a problem with people who do not live here nor work here trying to fashion policy for all of us. If the citizens of Minden want to bring alcohol to a vote, then they should organize themselves and create a petition drive.”

In response to these objections, Hatch said regardless of who creates the petition, it is the citizens of Minden who ultimately make the choice.

“The bottom line is the only way this gets on the ballot is when nearly 2,000 voters in the city of Minden call for this election,” he said. “I know we’ve had some sniping comments from people questioning the ‘outsiders,’ but it doesn’t really matter what I want. The fact of the matter is only citizens of Minden can put this on the ballot.”

If the signatures on the petition are validated, the propositions will appear on the ballot for the December 8 general election.

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