By Conrad Dudderar
Senior Staff Writer
An initiative petition to change Canadian County’s Sunday liquor rule has failed to gain enough signatures.
Petitioners had asked Canadian County Commissioners to call an election so voters could decide whether to allow Sunday sales of alcohol by the drink at Canadian County restaurants and bars, and Sunday sales of alcoholic beverages by retail spirit licensees.
The initiative petition was filed Sept. 23 at the Canadian County Clerk’s Office and signed by six Canadian County proponents: Charles Edward Bishop III, Michael Kaleb England, Sherry Lynn Wagner, Rickey Andrew Cook, Kyle D. Farnham, and Nathan Andrew Cross.
Some 6,920 signatures of registered Canadian County voters were needed on the petition, representing 15% of the 46,016 county voters who voted in the last governor’s election in November 2018. Proponents had 90 days to gather the needed voter signatures, to be verified by the county clerk.
“It just fizzled out,” said petitioner Bishop, a member of the Canadian County Libertarian Party. “We didn’t get there. We realized at least three weeks ago it wasn’t going to get done.”
Some Canadian County restaurant owners have expressed a desire to sell alcohol before 2 p.m. Sunday, saying the current rule hurts business and takes tax dollars away from cities.
These Canadian County establishments – for decades – have not been permitted by law to sell alcohol products before 2 p.m. Sunday.
Participation among fellow petitioners “dwindled off to nothing” after Bishop had a “run-in” while collecting signatures for the alcohol petition Oct. 31 during early voting at the Canadian County Election Board.
Bishop says he was temporarily detained by a sheriff’s deputy and accused of electioneering about an issue on the ballot, but noted he wasn’t doing that.
“I did really well on election day (Nov. 3), when I went out in front of a church and collected several hundred names in just a couple hours,” he related. “That day, I stayed 300 feet from the entry. I wasn’t going to run the risk of being kicked off again.
“When I was in line at the polls, 90 to 95% of the people wanted to sign it. There wasn’t any lack of desire for the people to see it on the ballot. It was just a matter of getting them together at the same time and place with the petition.”
Bishop believes petitioners for future measures would find success if they could freely collect signatures at election polling places, where registered Canadian County voters are lined up to vote.
Also hurting this initiative petition was what Bishop called “almost non-existent” participation from restaurants – which have faced extreme challenges in 2020.
“Probably the only establishment that participated to any extent was the 40 West Bar & Grill,” he said.
Bishop also noted the help he received collecting pages of signatures from manager Nathan Cross and staff at Grady’s 66 Pub in downtown Yukon.
Proponents also had planned to gather signatures from Canadian County registered voters at special events, but many such events were canceled or had lower-than-usual attendance in 2020.
The proposed ballot measure – if passed – would have allowed for “the sale of alcohol by retail liquor stores” and “the sale of alcoholic beverages by the individual drink” on Sundays.
IF AT FIRST …
The initiative petition seeking changes to Canadian County’s Sunday liquor rule was first filed this spring but later withdrawn due to the COVID-19 shutdown, which restricted the opportunity for proponents to gather the required 6,920 signatures.
“We were really hoping for more,” Bishop said. “We thought the COVID scare was over really, and it wasn’t.”
A couple petitioners were “uninvited” from petitioning at one Yukon restaurant because they had approached diners at a table without wearing masks.
While Bishop collected nearly 800 signatures, he eventually realized his fellow petitioners were unable to gather significant amounts of signatures.
So, he decided to “call it quits” and focus on his campaign for an Oklahoma City Council seat.
Petitioners were faced with a daunting task to collect nearly 7,000 verified voter signatures in such a unique and challenging year.
“It takes a lot of work – even in days when people are not scared to congregate,” Bishop said.
A vote could have been called by resolution of the Canadian County Commissioners, but District 1 Commissioner Marc Hader and District 2 Commissioner Dave Anderson did not support having the board call an election.
Hader and Anderson instead favored proponents using the initiative petition process.
“I encourage those who feel strongly about this to exercise their right and ability to influence their community,” Hader said earlier this year.
District 3 Commissioner Jack Stewart said he “didn’t see any problem at all” with changing the Sunday alcohol sales rule to help restaurants.
“I’m disappointed that citizens didn’t have the chance to make the decision at the ballot box,” Stewart said. “I’m surprised. I really thought they (petitioners) could make it.”
The initiative petition to change Canadian County’s Sunday liquor rule could be revived – but it won’t be by Bishop.
“Legally, someone else can take up the petition,” he said. “They could download a copy of the one that we did, and they can refile it, signing their own names as the petitioners. And they could run it.
“I wouldn’t do it again. I’ve already put my effort out there.”