Thursday, March 04, 2010

21 Bars Could Affect Whole State

Iowa City 21 Bar Vote Could Impact Whole State

Iowa City's latest effort to toss 19 to 21 year old adults out of the city's bars could have a statewide ripple effect in the November election, if the tentative timeline outlined in today's Press-Citizen article plays out:
"We'll probably have a line of people out the door talking to us," (Mayor Matt) Hayek said, stressing the entire process of adopting the ordinance will take place before the academic semester ends in mid-May.

That would start a 60 day clock ticking for anyone who wants to petition for an election to overturn the vote. So the bad news is 1) it makes it a fait accompli before the fall semester and 2) the petition window lands over the summer.

The good news is the number of signatures is at its minimum, 2,500, because turnout was so low in 2007 I mean 2009. (When the 21 Bar Yes people petitioned in 2007, the bar was higher, because it was based on 25% of the then-record 2005 turnout.)
If opponents collect the 2,500 necessary signatures, the city is left with three options -- reverse the council's decision, set the issue for a special election or put the issue on the next regular election.

Hayek said the third option is most likely for a number of reasons, including the cost of having a special election.

There's history for that; in 2000 they put the second "Yes Means No" First Avenue vote on the presidential ballot. (Since the vote was to remove a section of the city plan that the Council had approved, you had to counter-intuitively vote Yes to not build the road and No to build the road. I voted Yes to not build the road, but I drive on it anyway.)

At least they're not talking about cramming it through in August. So that would mean 21 bars going to a vote in this year's November 2 general election.

In 20 years as an Iowa Citian, I've only seen two things significantly boost student turnout: president on the ballot (general or caucus) and the 21 bar issue. Thousand of students showed up in the 2007 city election to vote it down (joined by some old folks like me). This effort would throw a turnout booster onto the November ballot. It'll also, less dramatically but still significantly, boost non-student turnout.

Who would that benefit? Well, in the 2006 gubernatorial general election, Chet Culver won 68 percent in Johnson County, and Dave Loebsack pulled 60 percent in his big upset win.

However, the 21 bar issue cuts across traditional party lines. Public health do-gooders and social conservatives want to crack down on underage drinking; conservative libertarians and lefty civil liberties types like me want to stand up for the rights of young adults. This would reshuffle the deck in a very unpredictable way.

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