Earlier this year, an organization called Grow Trigg circulated a petition to Trigg Countians with the intent of forcing a vote on repealing prohibition here. Today, the group is optimistic its goal of helping the county’s economy will come closer to reality after the local-option election Sept. 29.
Last Wednesday, Grow Trigg President Ken Culwell and publicity chair Linda Humbert visited The Cadiz Record to discuss the topic of alcohol sales in Trigg County.
Q. Describe how Grow Trigg was founded.
Culwell: I’m not sure there were any key players in the beginning. There were several meetings at Lake Barkley, and two or three people got up and talked about democracy. It started with some good ideas, and as meetings progressed, leaders emerged, organizations emerged.
Humbert: I think one of the things that we all had in common at the initial meetings was a concern for the future of Trigg County. All you need to look at is Aurora and the bridges and see what happened to that community, and to watch the business that are going out of business here in Trigg County, to watch the unemployment rate rising, and just to get together and say, “we need to do something to stop the downward spiral and to get the economy moving again and get people back to work.” And I think there’s always been a concern about families in Trigg County because so many of the children graduate from high school, go away to college and don’t come back. And we want to find a way to provide enough of a structure to Trigg County to get these kids to come back, and keep families together so that we have a future for people to stay right here, where they were born and raised. We certainly love this county as much as everyone else does.
Q: Did the group use last year’s attempt by the Trigg County Alliance for Progress to legalize by-the-drink sales at Arrowhead Golf Course for ideas on how to proceed with this year’s attempt?
Culwell: We interviewed with two guys that are still around. They provided some input and some ideas. yhey said that we’d be better off, for us as a community, if they stayed out of the picture. We still have lunch with them occasionally, but they’ve been very, very quiet. And that has been at their request, because they’re pretty decisive guys, both of them, and we didn’t want to take that approach. We wanted to be positive, on the message all the time. Not that they didn’t do that, but they’re different personalities.
Humbert: In many ways, the effort that they put together was very specific, for a specific area, for a specific goal, and ours is much larger in scope. And I think specifically because of that we have to organize a little bit differently. And the message has some similarities, but in general we’re looking at this entire community and entire county.
Q: Some of Grow Trigg’s initial marketing materials, including a postcard that was available to residents at several locations, have made no mention of the group’s desire to repeal prohibition here, which appears to be the group’s main goal. How would you respond to someone who might call that a misleading tactic?
Humbert: Basically, we don’t see the consumption of alcohol as being the issue. We’re not, in any way, trying to change the culture of Trigg County, we’re not trying to change the habits of people who live here. And our message all along has been that this is about the economy, it’s about bringing in new business, it’s about bringing in new cash revenue and creating jobs for the people who live here. We’re really looking to increase tourism spending more than anything else. And alcohol may be somewhat of a dirty word for some people in this county, but not to 97 percent of the United States, where alcohol is legalized, it’s for sale, and has been for many, many years. These are the people who come and visit us, these are the people who expect to be able to buy these type of beverages that they’re accustomed to drinking.
Culwell: [Alcohol] is here in abundance, and there’s nothing we can do about it, and it’s legal to be here. There are some things that make it illegal. For example, I can’t give you a drink at my home, that’s illegal. And the only time that’s going to be addressed is if there’s widespread abuse of it. We think it’s about the economy. And we say it bolsters economic development. Yes to increase, no to decrease, it’s your choice.
Q: Grow Trigg has regularly used Murray, Aurora and Kuttawa as examples of what alcohol sales can do for a community. Murray is a mid-size college town with a population larger than all of Trigg County, Cadiz has nearly four times the population of Kuttawa, and Aurora is unincorporated. Why does Grow Trigg believe those cities are relevant comparisons to Trigg County?
Humbert: We think, if anything, the benefits to Trigg County will be far greater to some of these other communities. I took the liberty of printing a page off of LBL’s web site. LBL claims over 2 million visitors annually. The tourism in this county is immense. It continues to grow. We think we have an unprecedented opportunity in this county to bring more tourists here, to encourage them to spend more money here. In order to do that, we need to bring in hotels, resorts, restaurants, and certainly retail package liquor sales. They’re going to stop and buy a six-pack, they’re going to stop and buy t-shirts and flip-flops and fishing tackle and everything else they want for their vacation. If you take the figure that LBL puts on their web site, even if half of them are children, you still have a million people coming through here who are adults, and if they bought one six-pack of beer, you’re talking about $5 million in revenue that would be coming in to Trigg County. If we charged 5 percent of that in taxes, you’re talking about $50,000 a year, $100,000 a year, $250,000 a year in taxes. Our stated goal is to get local tax revenue off alcoholic beverages, $250,000 a year. We think that is vitally important to the community in whole. We do realize that it goes into law enforcement.
Culwell: Our opposition said that every cent of alcohol revenue in the city of Murray goes to law enforcement. That’s absolutely true. If I fill your gas tank, you don’t have to. And that’s what they left out. Consider 200,000 tourists living at Lake Barkley. Every one of them bought a six-pack of beer, and charge 5 percent of that. That’s $50,000 revenue to the county. Have you ever seen a boat on Lake Barkley that doesn’t have a six-pack of beer? There are some, but not very many. Where do they buy that? Some other county, we do not get the revenue for that. And we lost the revenue from the fishing tackle, from the peanut butter, gasoline – you name it, we lost it, because they’re not going to make three stops.
Humbert: And the fact of the matter is, if it goes into law enforcement, that’s great, because frankly, our law enforcement could use more money, but that’s money they’re not getting from the general fund. And therefore the general fund remains intact, and they can then spend more money on fire protection and the hospital and emergency services and everything else that this county needs. If we don’t have to spend that much money out of the general fund for law enforcement, the rest of the community programs can get that money.
Q: Discuss, to the best of your knowledge, the variety of people who have signed the petition – how many signed with the intention of voting yes or voting no, how many were unsure that the petition was for legalizing alcohol sales, etc.
Culwell: We were talking to people. If you walked up to them on the street, 60 or above, the chances of getting them to sign a petition are not very good. If they were 40-60, it’s probably half and half. If they were 35 or below, it was just about guaranteed they’d sign it, and they would not talk about alcohol. they’d talk about the economy, they’d talk about jobs, they’d talk about the “brain drain” when their kids move away. I don’t think I ever talked to a person that said, “I want to sign this thing to bring it to a vote so I can go buy alcohol on Sunday.”
Humbert: We had a core group of supporters. There were probably 20 people total who really were out actively soliciting petition signatures. And they basically had a script that included informing everyone that this was for the purpose of bringing it to a vote, that they certainly were not trying to influence whether they were going to vote yes or no on whether to end prohibition in Trigg County. And we had a few people who said they were going sign it specifically because they said no, but I would say personally that I didn’t talk to any. I talked to a few other people in Grow Trigg who said they might have talked to one or two, but I’d say the percentage was very, very low. Most everyone who signed it was concerned about the future of Trigg County. It wasn’t a question of, “Am I going to be able to buy a six-pack down the street from my house?” They were questions of, “I got laid off from Johnson Controls,” “I lost my job last week,” “My husband lost his job last week,” “We need more business here,” We need to build the economy.”
Culwell: If they got out of a raggedy pickup truck, and they were generally unshaven, not well-cleaned, beer cans in the back of the truck, they talked about alcohol. Those guys were probably unemployed, but they’re voters. I’d say at 30 and below, none of them talked about alcohol. They talked about the economy.
Q: Describe the direct response Grow Trigg has received over the last few months. What are you hearing from people in the community?
Culwell: If you ask a person with a red sign on the back of his truck, he’s going to tell you all about the problems with alcohol, and we don’t argue with that. There are problems with alcohol. And sometimes, the answer is, “So?” Let’s get involved and help those people with alcohol problems. But now, let’s address the economy. There are going to be people with problems with alcohol, whether the county is wet or dry. There are going to be DUIs, and I think that some police officials think there are going to be fewer DUIs if the county is wet simply because people won’t have to drive. And if somebody’s got to drive for 30 minutes for a cold six-pack of beer, what’s he going to do with one? He’ll drink it on the way home. If he buys it locally, he’ll probably take it home.
Humbert: And overwhelmingly, one of the things that we hear over and over and over again is that I think people in Trigg County are getting a little frustrated over the fact that the economy does need improvement, we do need more jobs, we need to put people back to work. And there are many people in this county who keep saying to us, “Why doesn’t the opposition have a plan? All they ever do is talk about alcohol, but they don’t have a plan. We want to hear a plan. If you’ve got a plan, that’s great and we like your plan, but we’d like to hear a plan from the other side.” And so far, we’re [three] weeks away from the election, and they don’t have a plan, and I think that’s the biggest problem. And we’ve said all along, it’s not about alcohol consumption, it’s about trying to improve the economy, and trying to get alcohol sales is just the very first step towards bringing business to Trigg County. It’s not about trying to change somebody’s habits, we’re just trying to bring in business. We see that that’s the best way to attract new business here, businesses that in the past have considered coming here, but rejected it because it was a dry county. And if we can go to a wet county, bring those businesses in and put people back to work, whether it’s construction jobs, whether it’s jobs in hospitality, whether it’s jobs with retail stores and new businesses that they may be bringing in, that’s great, and that’s the essence of our plan. And unfortunately so far, we haven’t heard another plan.” “Within in the last 15 years, Holiday Inn had an option on property out there by the bridge going across Lake Barkley. I do not honestly know whether they still have this option on that property, but the reason why they never built anything out there is because it’s dry,. Marriott had an option with a different piece of property out there, they too have not come to Trigg County because it was dry.
Culwell: The people that own the property by [Interstate 24] indicate that they’re contacted all the time about selling property to open a restaurant. Now, the opposition has said big restaurants are not coming, but what happens at the Interstate has nothing to do with what happens in downtown Cadiz. And the buying of gasoline that goes through that place is absolutely amazing.You stop here and say ‘Where could we get a good meal,” and they’ll direct them to Clarksville if they’re headed south, and Paducah if they’re headed the other way. That’s what I’m trying to do is just say that what happens out there is way different, but will impact Cadiz.
Q: How much money do you expect to come in to the county if the referendum passes? And how much more attractive do you think the legal sale of alcohol will make the area, given its relatively small size?
Humbert: We feel like one large resort out there with 200 rooms would provide that kind of income to Trigg County, if we could just get one. It doesn’t need to be a chain, it doesn’t need to be a Holiday Inn or anything else. A privately-owned resort out there could bring in that kind of revenue, just one. If we had a fraction of the 2 million tourists that visit Land Between the Lakes every year shopping here in Trigg County, hotel tax and rollover alcohol tax could directly impact our local budget. But the alcohol tax on the tourism that comes through here I think would easily give us that kind of money within two years. We’re not talking about 10 years out or 20 years out. It’s the sort of thing that we could see immediate benefits from. We’re trying to get restaurants in. We already qualify for wine by the glass, and certain number of wine and distilled spirit licenses. What we don’t automatically qualify for is distilled spirits, however we do think that there are certainly going to be restaurants that are interested in just having beer and wine sales. We don’t think that that’s going to mean that we’re not going to have other restaurants in Trigg County that are selling alcoholic beverages. And we think we have an excellent opportunity to go after the distilled spirits. But it simply hasn’t been done before, so we don’t have a precedent, but that doesn’t mean that they won’t grant it to us. I think they’re more than prepared to grant it to us. And that comes from Virginia Davis, who is internal policy analyst at the [Alcoholic Beverage Control], and Janet Willams is assistant director of wine and distilled spirits, and they both assured me within the last two weeks that they saw no problem whatsoever in getting us
that license. They said since it hadn’t been done, there is the possibility of it being challenged locally. They didn’t see any problem of it getting through at all. For instance, that Bed and Breakfast downtown. One of the biggest challenges they face is when people go and make a reservation, they want to know “Where can we have dinner?” Your options in Trigg County are extremely limited at the moment, and I don’t mean to speak badly of our restaurants, they try very hard, but it’s not necessarily the sort of place that you’re planning on going when you’re on vacation. They’re probably looking for a glass of wine with their dinner, and they’re going to have to go to Hopkinsville or Murray or Paducah. We talked to the manager at Lake Barkley State Park. They are facing a major deficit this year. They can’t get people to stay there for dinner. They can fill the rooms, but they’re not making it on food sales because people don’t want to eat where they can’t have a beer or a glass of wine with their dinner. Even on that level, it would make a tremendous difference to the county to be able to bring a restaurant there.
Culwell: The man that owns Timbers said that he would open immediately and provide a half dozen jobs. And I don’t think it matters to him whether he can sell hard liquor, beer or wine. You can buy a box of wine for $5 and charge $3 for every glass, there’s profit. Like Linda said, the guy go to stay at the bed and breakfast downtown, where’s he going for dinner? If he’s going to spend a lot of money to stay at that bed and breakfast, that means he wants to eat at a classy place for dinner. Now, “classy place” does not mean a buffet. Maybe he wants a glass of wine, maybe he wants a whole bottle, and he doesn’t want to drive afterward. Therefore, they don’t stay. Humbert: And you can go up to Buzzard Rock, which is the only restaurant on Lake Barkley that actually serves alcohol. They are packed day and
night. And we think we should have some of that here in Trigg County.
Q: Do you think alcohol-related incidents, such as car accidents, DUIs, public intoxication, etc., will increase, decrease or stay the same?
Culwell: The city manager in Murray said the incidents of alcohol dropped after they went moist because they didn’t have all the college kids driving down to Tennessee loaded on the way back. You can find data all over the world that will support either side. I guess the main thing is that it’s not going to change very much. It might go down.
Humbert: Debbie Spencer does work with local-option elections, and she has provided us with information from other similar communities that have gone wet. In every instance, DUIs have gone down. I know there’s a lot of information out there quoting national statistics, but we like to keep our information closer to home and talk about communities in Kentucky that are similar to us and what happened to them after they went wet. We haven’t found a single example of worse, and it’s not just DUIs. Alcohol-related crime has gone down in every community that’s voted wet.
Q: What will Grow Trigg do if the referendum passes, and what will it do if the referendum fails?
Humbert: One of the things we’re working on now is gathering copies of ordinances of places that are similar in population to Trigg County in an effort to assist the fiscal court. Ken and other members of our organization have been attending fiscal court meetings and trying to build a relationship with those folks whether they’re for or against the vote. It’s just to let them know that we’re there to provide support for them. We want to make sure the ordinance reflects the wishes of everyone in Trigg County, if we want to have Sunday laws or restrictions on how far from the nearest church [an alcohol establishment can be located]. Things like that need to be in the ordinance because that becomes local law.
Culwell: There’s two main things we can do. One is to help with the ordinance. We need to establish a tax and request liquor by the drink. If we don’t request it, we certainly won’t get it. It’s very possible
that if we ask, we won’t get it, but we will won’t for sure if we don’t ask. There’s no precedent, but people at ABC think it’s favorable that if we ask, we’ll receive. [Judge-Executive Stan Humphries] knows that. His point of view today is that we cannot have liquor by the drink, and that’s true today, but nobody’s asked yet.
Humbert: We feel like Trigg County is going to be an exception to what has traditionally been done with ABC rules only because of the tourist impact on our county.
Q: If the referendum passes, precinct-by-precinct can petition to vote themselves dry. Is that a situation where Grow Trigg would stay the course?
Culwell: We plan to stay the course anyway. We’ve been asked to stay alive, whether it passes or fails, as a political action group that gets behind candidates we like. If it fails, unfortunately, we’ll continue to
go shop other places. If you go to Hopkinsville to shop, you’ll probably buy gas there because gasoline at Maxfuel at the Interstate is 30 cents more than it is in Hopkinsville from the same Maxfuel. How fair is that? That’s what we’re doing now, and if it fails, that’s what we’ll have to do still. But we’ll stay alive.
Q: If it fails, you’ve got three years to wait before it can be brought to a vote again. Is it safe to say you’d probably do this again in three years if it fails this time?
Culwell: We don’t think it will fail.
Humbert: We’re very positive it’s not going to fail. During the course of this election, there’s been what you might call a conflict between church and state. We think those sorts of things should be examined and held up to public scrutiny. People should be aware what their politicians are saying and doing. We think we can have some impact on the local political scene whether the vote passes or not. We think perhaps it’s time for people in Trigg County to take a little closer look at who is actually deciding what goes on here in the county.
Q: “Outsider” is a word that’s been used to describe Grow Trigg members. How do members respond to that?
Culwell: It’s very emotional for me because I served in the military for more than 30 years. I was an outsider in many foreign countries where we were not treated like outsiders. I didn’t receive that comment until I got back to the United States. Everybody is an outsider. I went to a [Trigg Citizens Against Alcohol] meeting, and a man was there saying horrible things about outsiders. He put the panels on my roof when I built my house. He took the job and my money, outside money. I see a bit of a conflict there. It’s OK for him to take my money, but it’s not OK for him to authorize the city and the county to take the benefit of alcohol tax. It seems like there’s a conflict. “Outsiders” bring a lot of tax money to a place. We don’t rely on the city or county to provide our income. I’m a little offended that someone would treat us as an outsider based on my background. I’ve been to a lot of foreign places and never been treated like an outsider, and to have to come to Trigg County and have somebody call me an outsider ... wait a minute. That’s not why I spent 30 years in the military.
Humbert: It’s one further example of the insulated way that the community has grown over the past couple hundred years. Maybe that was valid at one time, but the world changes and gets smaller all the time. People are drawn to this area because it’s beautiful and because of the lakes. There’s no question that most of the people who live on the lakes came here from other areas, and it’s some of the more expensive real estate in Trigg County. These are people who, for the most part, are retired and don’t have children in the school system. They aren’t making any particular demands on the tax base, and yet they contribute a great deal to it. I personally think Trigg County owes a “thank you” to those folks for
coming in and the contributions they’ve made. I think a great many of them support what we’re trying to do here. We want to help Trigg County have viable businesses and make money, to be able to employ more people. It will be most beneficial to the school children here and the parents who want to keep their children here in the county. It’s a mystery to me why the term “outsider,” which seems like a very derrogatory term, would be used on people who are trying to do nothing but improve the community.
Humbert: In anticipation that the opposition will continue to dwell on horrible car accidents and other examples of the abuse of drinking, the one other thing I’d point out is that we do have laws that deal with the abuse of drinking. We have perfectly sufficient law enforcement to deal with those laws. That’s their job. I think we should allow them to do their job. I don’t think we’re going to be giving them more of a job, probably even less of one. They’re doing very well now, and I don’t think they’d have any problem dealing with it in the future.
Culwell: The bottom line is, this is not about alcohol. It’s about the money the product brings to the community. We don’t have any trouble taking tobacco money, and it kills more people than alcohol. Alcohol is legal all over the United States. Let’s take the money. We’ve heard how alcohol does this and that, but it’s abuse of alcohol that’s the problem. We’re not going to solve that based on voting wet or
dry. We know it’s a problem, and if we can assist in that problem, we’ll be happy to.