November 14, 2018
By Jill Penley
Johnson County voters were faced with two referendums involving liquor on the Nov 6 ballot – package sales and liquor by the drink. Both passed, clearing the way for liquor stores to be built and restaurants to serve alcoholic beverages. “Retail Package Store Sales” passed 3,183 to 2,628. “Consumption On-Premises” passed 3,094 to 2,714. Those who supported the referendum insist it will increase local tax revenue and keep the money in the county, which would otherwise be spent elsewhere. Jean Ann Savery, who manages Sunrise Ridge, a local vacation destination, states she voted in favor of the referendum since her business relies mostly on tourism.
“When people come to stay, they have to buy wine, alcohol, and beer in Boone, Abingdon, or Johnson City before they get here,” said Savery. “It is too bad that our county is losing the revenue from these sales and other counties are benefiting.”
While sensitive to her neighbors with strong aversion towards alcohol, Savery thinks this move will help local businesses. “Regardless of how you feel about drinking personally,” she said, “this vote is a business/financial decision for our county and its future growth.”
Those against local package stores and liquor by the drink argue when people have greater and easier access to alcohol, tragedies follow.
“What about when you are the one that has to deal with a family who has just been told their husband or wife or one of their children has been killed by a drunk driver,” asked Ted Lewis, a local pastor in a social media post the day after the local election.
“Does anyone care that drunk dads and moms who spend all the family’s money on something to drink or to get drunk,” asked Lewis, who insists the revenue created by making alcohol more available will be to “rehab centers, hospitals, body shops, funeral homes, and lawyers.”
Now that the referendum has been approved, officials say businesses, who wish to offer these sales will have to pass a state screening process and meet a list of requirements to be able to obtain the license and begin sales.
Per Perry Stout, county attorney, before a package store or liquor by the drink can occur in the city limits of Mountain City; applicants would have to get the city’s compliance board approval. “As far as local adherence,” explains Stout, “it will be up to Mountain City aldermen to decide where package stores and consumption on premise will happen.”
By a narrow margin, the referendum to increase the local sales and use tax by one-half cent failed in the county with 2,940 voting against the increase and 2,679 voting in favor of it, a difference of only 261 votes countywide.
Johnson County Commissioners voted last year in favor of placing a referendum on a half-cent sales tax increase on the Nov 6 ballot, which would change the rate to nine percent on each purchase.
“That is an increase of one half of a penny on every dollar you spend,” explained Johnson County Mayor Mike Taylor.
While a tax increase is never popular, the board tried to stress the fact that, if passed, the one-half cent, already been paid by voters in most cases due to rounding, would remain in Johnson County instead of being sent to the state. According to Taylor, the one-half of a penny increase could generate approximately $500 thousand to be used locally.
Also on the local level, the citizens of the Town of Mountain City voted to return incumbent Bud Crosswhite to the board of aldermen and elected former Mountain City Mayor Lawrence Keeble to fill the other vacant seat. Crosswhite received 44.22 percent of the vote, with Keeble taking 28.39 percent followed by Robert A. Blackwell with 19.05 percent and Jason Panganiban with 7.88 percent.
Republican businessman and political newcomer Bill Lee will become Tennessee’s 50th governor, replacing outgoing GOP Gov. Bill Haslam. Lee, who is chairman of Lee Company, a Franklin mechanical contracting facilities and home services company, won the Nov 6 election against former Democratic Nashville Mayor Karl Dean. While the governor-elect has been criticized for failing to provide specifics on key policy positions, political insiders credit his win with his positive campaigning and religious faith.
“I’m humbled. I’m honored. And I couldn’t be more grateful,” Lee reportedly said to a crowd of supporters in Franklin, where he was born as he stood next to his wife, Maria. “I’m grateful you placed your trust in us to lead this great state of Tennessee.”
Raised on the farm where he still lives today, he received his bachelor’s in mechanical engineering in 1981. Under his leadership, Lee Company has grown to employ over 1,000 people with annual revenues in excess of $220 million. Unofficial final results show Lee received a total of 4,806 votes from Johnson County voters, compared to Dean’s 1,012.
In the other hotly contested statewide race, U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn became the first female senator to represent Tennessee as local voters and the state chose her over Democratic former Gov. Phil Bredesen to fill the seat retiring Republican Sen. Bob Corker. Blackburn, who won Johnson County with 76.61 percent of the vote, is an eight-term member of Congress from Brentwood representing Tennessee’s Seventh Congressional District.
“I think the entire country has heard Tennessee loud and clear,” Blackburn told her supporters Tuesday night. “Tennesseans want a conservative U.S. Senator.”
Rep. Phil Roe, a Republican, has won another term representing Tennessee’s 1st Congressional District, beating Democrat Marty Olsen. Roe, who received 82.94 percent of the vote in Johnson County and 77.1 percent statewide, has represented the district in the House since 2009. Republican state Rep. Timothy Hill, who represents the 3rd House District ran unopposed. Rep. Hill thanked Johnson, Sullivan, and Carter Counties via Twitter soon after the polls closed. He received 98.76 percent of the vote in Johnson County.