Saturday, September 30, 2023 Sep 30, 2023
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The Silliness of Dallas’ Wet-Dry Laws

It's time for the city to ditch its antiquated boundary rules.
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One night in London, a group of Americans found themselves being ushered out of a pub at 11 pm, when all pubs, by law, were forced to close. The law was a holdover from 1915, pushed through by mill owners who wanted their workers to be fresh and sober at sunrise when they reported to work. Eventually, several streets over, the little group discovered one of London’s illegal after-hours bars in the basement of an old abbey.

London did not abolish its antiquated closing times until 2005. In Dallas, reforming our antiquated liquor laws has taken a bit longer. But hope is finally on the horizon. Thanks to a petition, liquor reform is now officially on the November ballot.

It has been a long, hard pull. The problem is not Dallas voters. The problem is dead voters—specifically the voters of 1876, 1882, and 1894 in what is now North Dallas, which was populated with nothing but a few farmers and seed salesmen. They voted to keep their territory clear of the temptations of Devil Rum. The farmers were no doubt influenced by the wanton libertinism of the big city to their south. In 1900, Dallas claimed 80,000 citizens and 250 saloons, or one for every 320 people.

In those days, North Dallas was a political division of the county known as Judicial Precinct 2. The precinct disappeared long ago. But as recently as 2008, the Texas Supreme Court ruled that in order for those elections to be overturned, the precinct would have to be reconstituted. Unfortunately, nobody kept an accurate record of where exactly it was.

Addison may or may not have been a part of Precinct 2—nobody knows for certain—but its civic leaders found a loophole. Because the county judicial precincts run over city lines, a city is considered the smaller political unit. The Texas Constitution favors referenda at the smallest political unit. In 1976, by a vote of 242 to 70, Addison went wet. At the time of the vote, Addison was so poor that 70 percent of the town did not have sewer or water lines. By 1980, it was one of the richest little towns in Texas.

Meanwhile, parts of Dallas are still stuck with votes cast when nobody today was alive. Confusion reigns. Near Northwest Highway, a Centennial liquor store freely plies its trade on the west side of Preston Road while a Tom Thumb three blocks northeast is not allowed even to sell wine. In one nearby restaurant, a customer can order a martini. Across the street, the same customer must produce a club membership card to get a drink.

People make money off confusion. The “club membership” purveyors are one. The liquor wholesalers are another. They love the antiquated law that restricts their deliveries to only one part of the city. It keeps their costs down. The retailers feel the same. They don’t want the competition from more grocery stores selling beer and wine. The less convenient it is to buy liquor, the more Dallas is a seller’s market. That’s nice if you happen to be a seller. It is less nice if you happen to be a buyer.

But all good things come to an end. Legally, the city of Dallas is just as small as the city of Addison. In November, it can finally put an end to the silliness caused by invisible lines drawn on a 19th-century map.

The opponents will unleash ads warning of Sodom and Gomorrah. Ironically, those ads will be paid for by segments of the liquor industry. Businessmen tend to get moralistic when their monopolies are challenged.

The proponents will argue that sales tax revenues will boom. I’ve grown a little jaded by rosy projections from economists, so I would discount their figures by 50 percent. On the other hand, if little Addison is any example, maybe I should double the economists’ projections. Liquor is a powerful stimulant to spending.

But if there is one overriding reason to vote for the liquor reform, it is because London beat us to it. Does a red-blooded American city really want to be known for having laws more antiquated than England’s? (If so, please join me in my lonely campaign to restore the monarchy.)

By the way, as much as I am for the referendum, when it wins, I will not be joining the proponents in a toast. I don’t drink.

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