Voters to decide fate of alcohol ban

MONMOUTH -- Residents of Monmouth will answer an age-old question -- well, in this city, anyway -- on May 18.



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Ray Stratton, who owns restaurants in Dallas and Monmouth, says Mon-mouth’s restrictions on hard alcohol sales make it tough to do business.

MONMOUTH -- Residents of Monmouth will answer an age-old question -- well, in this city, anyway -- on May 18.

"Can I get a drink?"

Citizens will say "yes" or "no" to allowing the sale of hard alcohol in the community and effectively end a longtime prohibition on spirits.

Proponents, working under the political action name "Martinis for Monmouth," gathered enough signatures this past winter to place Measure 27-101 on the ballot.

The group has argued that the prohibition is antiquated. Monmouth is the only municipality in the state with such a restriction, according to the Oregon Liquor Control Commission.

And not allowing hard liquor and cocktail sales is enough of an obstacle to prevent potential restaurants from opening in Monmouth because they can't have full-service bars, said Ray Stratton, who operates Main Street Pub & Eatery.

"Alcohol is a revenue source," Stratton said. "For my business, it could be huge. ... I would like to expand and do a more expansive menu than just burgers and wraps. But to do that, you need revenue."

Cec Koontz, a chief petitioner, said "Martinis" has been relatively low key in advertising the issue, partly because there was little opposition when she and other members were collecting signatures.

"I think the city is ready to progress," she said.

Pastor Stan Peterson of Monmouth Christian Church publicly spoke against a successful measure to allow beer and wine sales back in 2002 -- mostly because people asked him to.

Peterson agreed to take part in a debate at Western Oregon University with Mayor John Oberst, chief petitioner, back then. Peterson thought the event was just for a class, he said.

Instead "it was open to the community and there were television cameras," he said. "It was nonsense."

The partial repeal was a much-discussed issue among townsfolk because the dry law gave Monmouth notoriety. Peterson said he knows of no formal opposition -- and that he's heard very little on the ballot measure, in general.

Peterson said there's two reasons for that. Drinking didn't become a bigger issue as he feared because of the first repeal. And conversely, "it's not the huge financial windfall for those who thought it would be," he said.

Still, Peterson said he will vote "no" on the measure; "I'm not in favor of expanding the ability to sell and drink alcohol."

Evan Sorce, president of the Associated Students of WOU, said many at Western are finding out about the measure during voter-registration drives. Obviously, most will vote "yes," Sorce said.

He said current law is "unnecessary." Changing it could give downtown more of a nightlife and make it more appealing to current and potential students, he said.

"And it will lower the risk of people driving drunk," Sorce continued. "I know too many people who have made that poor choice of drinking at a bar in Independence or somewhere else and then driving back here and getting into legal trouble."

Stratton said he and others may do more campaigning for the measure as the election draws closer. In the meantime, he's had voter registration events at his bar and has signed up nearly 300 people.

"Unless people I've spoken with are talking out the sides of their mouth, I feel this will pass," he said.



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