Tank Up the Vote

Suburbs looking to get wet

There's no greater threat to democracy (other than Congress) than drinking and voting. But what about voting and drinking? In North Texas, it's becoming as all-American as German car leases. Witness McKinney, Allen and the mother of all American suburbs, Plano. Groups from each city are racing (or have raced) to collect enough signatures to put wet-dry measures before voters, probably in May. They aim to drive a stake in those heinous private-club membership rituals in restaurants as well as allow grocery and convenience stores to sell beer and wine. Earlier this month, McKinney Citizens for Economic Growth submitted completed petitions with some 5,600 signatures to request a May election. Andre Dubois, president of Allen Citizens for Economic Growth, says he's collected 3,000 of the 5,000 signatures he's shooting to gather in just more than two weeks by installing petition tables in a couple of local grocery stores. Dubois says he's confident he'll hit his mark before the end of the holidays, beating his early-February deadline by several weeks. In Plano, where the signature hurdle is considerably steeper (20,077 autographs), Jon Davies, head of Plano Citizens for Balanced Business, says he's collected half the needed signatures by posting some 90 petitions in restaurants such as Macaroni Grill, Chili's, On the Border, Steak & Ale and Bennigan's Grill & Tavern.

Roughly 40 percent of Plano is dry, barring the sale of alcohol in retail stores. The city approved beer and wine sales in 1977, but all land annexed since then requires its own legislation to get moist. To ensure success, Davies did his politicking early. "We went and talked to a lot of special-interest groups early in the planning stages," he says. "We have had not one single solitary [element of] major opposition, including from the people that normally oppose everything." This electoral binging was sparked by legislation passed this summer by state lawmakers liberalizing requirements for Texas wet-dry elections, considered the most onerous in the nation. Rules under the new legislation mandate each municipality collect signatures from 35 percent of all voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election within 60 days. Old rules were far more stringent, requiring petitioners to collect signatures from 25 percent of registered voters in each municipality within 30 days. Plus, signatures had to exactly match the scribbles on the signatory's voter registration card, including middle and/or maiden names. Texas has 254 counties, 89 percent of which are designated "dry" or "partial wet." Only 28 counties are currently considered all "wet," which is perhaps where the whole state is headed. We'll vote to that.

 
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