Kidding. We are already there.
Poverty, illiteracy, unemployment, low median income levels, and hunger all plague Southeastern Oklahoma in such a horrendous, Biblical fashion that it is almost enough to make me sick. It’s a poor, uneducated wasteland…according to statistics. While there is plenty to love – beautiful scenery, warm, southern hospitality and a rich sense of community – the numbers do not lie. Facts are irrefutable. The statistics have spoken.
So when my very dry county proposed a vote on liquor by the drink, I could not imagine the citizens saying no to that type of economic activity and opportunity. No more driving 30 minutes to give other counties – other small businesses – our commerce. We could keep it right here at home, grow tax revenue and reap the economic benefits of liquor by the drink.
So when my father commissioned me to write a letter to the editor of the local paper, pleaing for a vote of yes by citizens, I was all in. I researched, I wrote. And at the risk of pissing off every church deacon in a 25 mile radius, I wrote the following, which was published in today’s Capital-Democrat:
America’s growing gap in classes is the “rising crisis of our time.” The middle class is melting away, and here in Johnston County, it is almost non-existent. The result is devastating across the county: from educational performance to employment and food insecurity. According to FeedingAmerica.org, the nation’s leading domestic hunger relief charity, Oklahoma was the sixth ranked state for unemployment in 2012. Rural communities and households are at greater risk compared to our urban counterparts. Within Johnston County alone, 22.3 percent of citizens live below the poverty line – a rise above the state level of 16.6 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It’s sickening, it’s embarrassing and it’s detrimental to the future of our community and our state.
Creating jobs and tackling hunger within Oklahoma is a cause most recently noticed by federal government. The Choctaw Nation is among the first five organizations chosen to roll out the government’s campaign against poverty. The message is clear: when it comes to eliminating poverty in this country, southeastern Oklahoma has the longest road ahead. No one is going to help us but us: the citizens of Johnston County.
Allowing the sale of liquor by the drink within Johnston County by voting “yes” on the controlled drinking proposition on February 11 is regarded as a moral issue, and I would agree with that sentiment. But while many rage on about the religious implications of liquor by the drink in Johnston County, a greater cause is forgotten: the cause of unemployment, poverty and hunger. Exacerbating these existing issues within Johnston County by stunting economic growth…where is the morality in that?
Liquor by the drink sales would grow tax revenue, funneling money back into the county’s general fund– money we desperately need for aging community infrastructure. Building that infrastructure creates jobs.
Boutique businesses, from the Lucky Rose to the Pink Pistol and restaurants like Guerros and Latte Da, fill the spaces on Tishomingo Main Street where empty buildings once sat. Within a short time, and thanks to a handful of visionary business owners like Miranda Lambert, Lisa Rose and Kristie Cannon, Tishomingo Main Street has transformed from a ghost town to a center for economic growth within Johnston County. We’ve grown, but I also believed we’ve peaked: the success of Tishomingo Main Street cannot bleed out into the rest of Johnston County without the sales tax revenue, and economic opportunity, of liquor by the drink. Without a vote of “yes” by the citizens of Johnston County, we reach the end of our economic road.
With a yes, we can at least hope for existing businesses to expand on their successes: a Hotel by the Chickasaw Nation, a bar by Miranda Lambert, existing spas offering wine with services, a margarita at the local restaurant. It all promises more customers, more business, more employees and increased sales tax revenue.
Right now, we say come visit Johnston County. With liquor by the drink, we say come stay, eat, play and do business in Johnston County. We say come work and live in Johnston County – and live well.
While I do hope this article sways some voters in the affirmative, I also hopes it ignites a larger conversation about the quality of life in our community and state, and what we all can do to better it.