By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
An initiative petition will be circulated in Canadian County to gather enough signatures to call a special election so voters can decide whether to revise a Sunday liquor rule.
Some Canadian County restaurant owners want to be able to serve alcohol before 2 p.m. Sunday. For decades, these places have not been allowed by law to sell alcohol products before 2 p.m. that day.
A petition signed by 15% of voters in the last governor’s election in Canadian County is required to place the item on the ballot. There were 46,106 registered Canadian County voters who voted in that Nov. 6, 2018 election, which means the initiative petition must have signatures of nearly 7,000 registered voters.
A majority of Canadian County voters must approve any change to county liquor laws.
Yukon’s Trey Bishop, of the Canadian County Libertarian Party, drafted an initiative petition filed in late March with the county clerk’s office. Petitioners are required to gather the required signatures within 90 days from the filing date.
“We haven’t been able to build on it because of everybody being locked down,” Bishop said.
The effort lost steam when local restaurants, bars and other retailers closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With less than 30 days left, Bishop said the existing petition will be withdrawn and refiled within two months.
“We’re going to do it fairly quickly,” he said. “We’re going to try to re-file it in such a way so that it lines up with some community events and people in the community get to respond.
“It will be another 90-day stretch. It would have been nice to line it up with the Czech Festival, but that has been canceled. That day, we may have been able to get all of our signatures.”
With businesses reopening and community activities resuming, Bishop sees no problem in gathering the signatures needed on the petition to have the question at a countywide election.
“If we have a good three-month run, we can get easily 20 percent over,” he said, noting some signees may not be registered Canadian County voters. “We are going to re-file it.
“We are going to get this done and get it on the ballot.
Yukon Chamber of Commerce CEO Pam Shelton said about 10 restaurants have visited with her about seeking the Sunday liquor law change.
“We’re not endorsing the petition, but listening to our businesses,” Shelton said.
She described some frustrated restaurant patrons leaving local restaurants because they can’t have a drink with their Sunday brunch or lunch.
“They’re driving down the road to Bethany or Oklahoma City,” she said. “That’s tax dollars that are being taken away from Yukon.”
COMMISSIONERS ARE DIVIDED
Canadian County Commissioners could place the Sunday question on the ballot, but only District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart would support a resolution calling an election.
District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader and District 2 Commissioner David Anderson believe Canadian County residents who support the change should gather signatures through the initiative petition process.
Hader, chairman of the three-member Canadian County Commission, encouraged residents to create a ballot initiative while exercising their right and ability to influence their community.
“My hope is that those folks who have felt strongly about this have been proceeding with their efforts on a petition,” Hader said. “Prior to the COVID-19 challenges coming on, there were multiple parties looking at that. I’ve encouraged them to come together in one effort and get that done.
“As things open up and resume normal activities, hopefully they can take that and run with it. Ultimately, they can be successful if they’re diligent about it.”
Supporters should be empowered to affect change if they are passionate about something, the commissioner noted. Hader was part of initiative petitions for “No New Taxes” and “Right to Work” legislation.
Commissioner Anderson believes those residents motivated to see this change should work on the initiative petition.
“I don’t believe this is an important issue to the vast majority of the people in Canadian County,” he said. “It’s very important to some businesses.”
As with other difficult decisions, the District 2 commissioner said he can see merits on both sides of the argument whether the commissioners should call an election instead of requiring proponents to petition.
“I’m not motivated to see this change and I don’t think it’s a high-profile issue to the vast majority of people in Canadian County,” Anderson explained. “So, therefore I’m not going to initiate any movement that would seek change.
“Canadian County established this rule back in 1985 and, until recently, there hasn’t been any problem with it.”
Anderson emphasized he’s not completely opposed to changing the Sunday rule.
“I do see the economic inequity of whether you’re on one side of a line or not, whether you can sell a mixed drink at 10 a.m.,” he said. “I don’t sense that it’s something the majority of people of Canadian County are interested in.”
The three-term commissioner said the people of Canadian County elected him to run their government.
“I’m going to govern and make decisions based on my convictions,” Anderson said. “When change is necessary from my point of view to improve government, then I’ll call an election.”
WHY CHANGE NEEDED
Bishop explained why he and other Canadian County Libertarians believe this issue is important enough to launch the initiative petition.
“Generally speaking, it’s because Libertarians believe people ought to make their own decisions,” Bishop said. “We leave too many decisions up to the government.”
Bishop noted that some Libertarians are pro-life while others are pro-choice. Some members are sober living, some drink. Some are religious, some are not.
There’s not a good reason to restrict restaurant alcohol sales on Sunday, Bishop contended.
“Aside from the liberty aspect, Canadian County businesses are losing money and Yukon is losing tax revenue on that day,” he said. “People are not even going to Green Chile restaurant if they can have a mimosa just a few miles down the road at a different restaurant.
“I have friends in town that have restaurants that would benefit from this (change).”
The Canadian County Libertarian Party will look for other projects at the municipal and county levels to “make things better for people,” Bishop added.
The current 2 p.m. Sunday law has hurt some Yukon-area restaurants who are seeing customers go to Oklahoma County to purchase alcohol earlier on Sundays, Commissioner Stewart noted.
“They say they’re losing a lot of business (and) we’re losing tax money to Oklahoma County,” he said. “Canadian County is either the only county or one of only two in Oklahoma with that 2 o’clock Sunday rule.”
Stewart doesn’t think moving up the time to 11 a.m. or noon is a huge deal.
“A two or three-hour difference is all it boils down to,” he said. “It’s just an economic development advantage to restaurants in all of Canadian County.”
The District 3 commissioner predicted the initiative petition will be successful.
“We (the commissioners) are still not making the decision,” he said. “We’re just allowing it to go to a vote.”