Normangee Residents Divided Over Alcohol Sales

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Across America, there are still small towns where the daily news is delivered by mouth usually at a small diner or gas station.

Such is the same in Normangee, a tiny Texas town with one stop light and where tractors still share the road with cars.

And since the November 4 presidential elections, there's one historic change that still has the town buzzing.

“You know there’s a lot of people around here that are against it, but they don’t speak up, they don’t voice," said Amy Hoskins.

But it's not a democratic versus republican issue that has some residents like Hoskins angry -- in fact, the center of all the attention comes in the form of a bottle.

“I just think this is going to cause a lot of problems here. You know we’ve already lost kids here to drunk driving not long ago. And it’s a big mess right now," Hoskins said.

It was a proposition to change Precinct 4 of Leon County -- which includes Normangee, Hilltop Lakes, Flynn and Marquez -- from dry to wet that has the town of about 700 residents divided. And though the proposition passed 1,093 to 686 votes, some opponents such as Hoskins say there are many more that are opposed to the change.

"There's grandparents around here that send their grandkids in to get a drink or snack, and how are they going to feel if their kid runs into someone stumbling around drunk? And you know, we've already got enough problems with people walking up and down the roads, throwing their beer bottles out," Hoskins said.

But alcohol isn’t exactly a new thing to the residents of Normangee. Less than a mile from the town’s main square is J&T’s Beverage Barn, which has been able to sell beer and wine for the last two years. But the establishment has only been able to do so because Normangee is actually divided by the Leon-Madison county line; and of course, the "beer barn" resides on the Madison side.

Which is why some residents feel bringing alcohol one more mile into town won't change Normangee.

“I don’t think it’s going to change anything. It’s already right down the street. They just aren’t going to have drive another block to get it now," said one Normangee resident, who asked to remain anonymous for personal reasons.

But one mile away is close enough for Hoskins.

“We’re just a very small town. Our kids don't need to be subjected to all this stuff. I think it's just going to lead to more people driving up and down the road drunk," Hoskins said.

Hoskins has gained the support of some of the local churches, who plan to help her circulate a petition to get another vote on the proposition.

“It’s a good town. There’s good people here. That’s why this issue is hitting home. Because of what the changes are going to come about. This is going to change the community I knew of in the past," said Dean Wieghat of Grace Cowboy Church.

"It contributes to poor health. It contributes to poor judgment. And it contribute to a poor spiritual life. There's really no benefit from alcohol as far as a Christian is concerned," added Will Odom from Normangee's Church of Christ.

All of the pastors that showed up on this day to show their support for Hoskins said they’ve seen firsthand how alcohol can ruin family life. For Kip Riley, pastor of First Baptist Church of Normangee, his experience with alcohol strikes a little closer to home.

“When I was a senior in high school, I was hit by a driver who was greatly impaired by alcohol, and nearly ended my life. So since from that point on, it’s been a very personal thing in my life," Riley said.

For whatever reason Hoskins or other opponents provide, they know they have an uphill battle. Considering almost 70 percent of voters approved the proposition, that means they'll have to sway a lot of opinions on the subject.

“I think it will be the same as always here. It’s not going to change the fact that there’s going to be drunks. They’re going to get it no matter where they get it from. They’re still going to do what they do," said one Normangee resident, who also asked to remain anonymous.

But Hoskins said regardless of what others may gossip about her at the local diner or gas stations, she will still attempt to circulate a petition to get the proposition overturned.

“This is a start. The petition’s a start. At least I’ll know that I did everything I could to stop it," Hoskins said.

Additional Info on this story:

-- The Normangee City Council voted on November 20 to accept the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission's regulations by a 3-1 vote, giving businesses the green light to apply for an alcohol permit. Cindy Bilsing was the only council member that voted against it.

-- Trustees for the Normangee Independent School District voted 6-0 on December 8 to formally ask the city council to increase the distance from the current 500 feet that alcohol can be sold near a school campus. The trustees are asking to extend the distance to 1,000 feet.

-- Some gas stations or grocery stores have applied for a permit to sell alcohol, and if approved, could have beer or wine on their shelves within the next four to six weeks (just after the first week in January 2009).

-- November 4, 2008 was the first time that a proposition to allow alcohol to be sold in Precinct 4 of Leon County had appeared on any election ballot.

-- Restaurants can apply to serve beer or wine in Normangee, but will have to post a notice for 60 days before being considered for approval.

-- The only way the proposition can be overturned is if it is voted on again by the registered voters in Precinct 4 of Leon County. A certain number of registered voters would have to request a formal petition from Leon County, and then would have to get a certain number of signatures on that formal petition to get the proposition put back on the next election ballot.