Petitions divide city voters

Illustration by Erin Jackel/The News

Illustration by Erin Jackel/The News

Ed Marlowe
Staff writer

Once again voters in Murray are taking sides in the ongoing controversy of whether packaged liquor sales should be allowed within the city limits.

“Grow Murray,” a movement in favor of the sales, began circulating a petition last month. Its efforts are similar to those of “Keep It Local Murray,” a group that made the same push when the topic surfaced in 2009.

“Keep It Out of Murray,” a coalition formed in response to those efforts of “Keep It Local Murray,” succeeded in preventing a referendum for the law from ever reaching the polls.

For some city residents, it was a slap in the face.

John Crofton, professor of engineering physics, was, and still is, one of those city residents who felt the slap.

In response, Crofton is assisting others who feel the same way with the newest packaged liquor sales initiative called “Grow Murray,” a group of local citizens with like-minded principles with one mission: to bring packaged liquor to a vote.

As one of the few “Grow Murray” members to come forward and talk, Crofton has finally begun to speak his mind on the issue.

“I think a lot of people said, ‘That’s wrong,’” he said. “The way our democratic process works is things come up for a vote; people run for office; various initiatives come up, and people vote on it. We don’t prevent things coming up for a vote.”

Crofton said he would be disappointed should the newest petition pass and promptly get voted down in a city-wide election.

“I feel like, you know, we were sort of disenfranchised,” he said. “Somebody was preparing an initiative to have a say and then another group came along and said, ‘Well, if you don’t take this off the ballot … we might take your business away’ or something like that, and I just think that’s wrong.”

“Keep It Out of Murray” recently started circulating a petition to introduce a vote to make the city dry.

An email sent to voters cites if the group’s petition is successful, it would preempt a future wet/dry vote for at least three years.

“If we can get around 700 Murray residents to sign the “Keep It Out of Murray” petition, the Grow Murray petition is dead and cannot come to a vote, because this can only be voted on once every three years,” states the email, signed by local attorney Greg Taylor. “Our petition is the only way to ensure that the city doesn’t allow bars and package liquor stores.

The email also states that increased revenue brought to the city through packaged liquor sales would be used to fund additional law enforcement.

The biggest concern of “Grow Murray,” Crofton said, is Calloway County only deals with the negative consequences of alcohol without any reciprocity from the positives of having packaged liquor sales in the city.

While not an official spokesperson for the Grow Murray movement, Crofton said many members are tired of seeing increased revenue being funneled to Paris, Tenn., Paducah, Ky., and Cadiz, Ky.

“Every time we go down there and we buy it in Tennessee, we’re funding Henry County law enforcement,” he said. “Then we bring the product back here, and because somebody is not responsible or abuses it, we don’t have the enhanced law enforcement to make sure it is kept under control.”

In 2000, Crofton was part of the referendum to bring alcohol to dining establishments and legalize liquor by the drink, and he said complaints voiced then – including safety – are again being voiced by the community now.

“I’ve been married to one woman my whole life,” he said. “I have a child, and I object to people characterizing me or people that agree with me that somehow we’re not family friendly.”

Becoming a citizen of Murray, Crofton said, is easier than people think.

“If you live here and you want to transfer your voter registration, then you’re a resident,” he said. “There is nothing that says you have to be a resident for the next 20 years. That’s not the way it works.”

With the possibility of another packaged liquor vote looming on the horizon, a big question comes to light: should students have the right to vote in city elections?

In 2000, the student vote helped push the current liquor laws upheld in Murray, and should the newest efforts by locals involved with the “Grow Murray” referendum end with a popular vote, it could come down to the students again.

Jonah Waggoner, senior from Salem, Ill., and president of the Residential College Association, said revenue generated by students would allow for continued growth of the city.

“Whether the city grows because of alcohol is a good thing or bad thing is your own moral issue,” he said. “But when it comes to alcohol, there is your own responsibility just like there is in driving and getting a driver’s license. I think enrollment might go up, but the rules will stay the same in the residential colleges as far as not allowing liquor in the rooms.”

Derrick McReynolds, assistant director to residence education, agrees on packaged liquor bringing more revenue to the city but remains worried of the concerns and long-term effects packaged liquor could bring to Murray State.

“If students who are not going to be living here can actually vote on this, then it is going to create a situation where these students … get to leave the issue for the residents of Murray to deal with,” he said. “This town has always been somewhere where not too many issues or problems arise, and I’m just afraid this would bring a lot more of that into the city.”

No word has been received from “Grow Murray” on whether their target goal of signatures has been met.

Crofton, whose beliefs are shared throughout the “Grow Murray” initiative, said if packaged liquor sales are handled appropriately, it will be more beneficial for everyone involved.

“It’s a belief thing,” Crofton said. “A lot of people said they didn’t like the idea of someone telling me that I have to follow their beliefs. If they don’t like packaged liquor, I sure I hope I don’t see them in a packaged liquor store.”