Hard alcohol repeal qualifies for ballot

MONMOUTH -- The last vestige of Monmouth's "dry" legacy may end in May 2010, when residents will vote whether to fully repeal the city's nearly 150-year-old ban on hard alcohol.



MONMOUTH -- The last vestige of Monmouth's "dry" legacy may end in May 2010, when residents will vote whether to fully repeal the city's nearly 150-year-old ban on hard alcohol.

Proponents, under the political action committee name "Martinis for Monmouth," submitted the necessary number of signatures last week needed to place a measure on the ballot for the May 17 primary election.

Polk County Clerk Val Unger said she received 862 signatures on Dec. 17, with 676 of those verified as eligible. The group needed 659, or 15 percent of Monmouth's registered voters, to qualify for the ballot.

"I'm ecstatic," said Ray Stratton, the owner of Main Street Pub & Eatery, who's been vocal about allowing sales of hard liquor -- more than 14 percent alcohol by volume -- in Monmouth.

"Even though there hasn't been a vote yet, I think it's a big step forward."

Signature gathering had gone very slowly for proponents until about the last week of November, Stratton said.

He and perhaps 20 other volunteers and staff from his bar pounded the pavement in Monmouth during recent weeks -- including the cold snap in early December -- to collect the final few hundred signatures.

"Once you got out there and walked, you stayed pretty warm," Stratton joked, noting he actually ran from house to house for signatures the last day before the deadline on Dec. 15. "It was very cold ... but we understood the importance of it."

Cec Koontz, chief petitioner, said the contingent may undertake some educational work between now and May, with fliers, word-of-mouth, and, if needed, a community meeting.

"There are so many new people in town, in neighborhoods like Edwards Edition or new staff at Western Oregon University," Koontz said. "They had no idea why they couldn't buy a drink in Monmouth."

Koontz said there would also be voter registration efforts happening at Western, with particular attention paid to change of address forms for eligible voters.

"A lot of students are registered to vote, but at their home addresses," she said.

Monmouth Mayor John Oberst spearheaded the successful 2002 effort to allow beer and wine sales in the city. He said he initially thought it might take even longer for somebody to step forward and pull the trigger on the liquor question, "an economic issue, above anything else."

"It's a product we can't sell that everyone else can," he said. "I hear constantly a call for high-end restaurants in Monmouth.

"Passage of a measure won't necessarily make that happen," he said. "But the failure to pass it will guarantee that it won't."

For more information: www.martinisformonmouth.com.



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