Year in Review

# 3: GOP march to victory continues; alcohol OK'ed countywide

By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 30, 2016
Republican candidates Brandon Rogers and Kevin Ensley lead the ticket for the county commissioner race. They are shown with Pat Bennett (center) at the Ivy Hill precinct at the Maggie Valley town hall on election day.

The 2016 election continued the slow but steady shift in Haywood County toward Republican success.

In the 2012 election, many local Democratic candidates outpolled their GOP counterparts, but on national issues, Haywood voters decidedly favored GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney, N.C. Gov. Pat McCrory and other state and federal candidates.

This presidential election showed that only two Democratic candidates polled higher in Haywood than their Republican counterparts — N.C. Supreme Court candidate Michael Morgan and Rep. Joe Sam Queen, who won in Haywood, but not in the district.

Republican candidates won the other races in Haywood by more than 10 percentage points or more.

Democrats still hold the edge when it comes to registered voters, with about 4,000 more registrants than either Republican or unaffiliated voters, which have roughly an equal number of voters at just over 13,000.

Haywood County was a reliable Democratic stronghold until about two decades ago when several local Republican leaders landed seats on the Haywood County Board of Commissioners — Robert Forga and Carlyle Ferguson. Until recent years, a Republican primary was virtually unheard of, and in the general elections, there were often no GOP candidates on the ballot.

In recent years, Kevin Ensley has been the only Republican serving on the board of commissioners.

Elections in the 2000s, however, show voters drifting away from the Democratic Party and a continually growing number of voters in the unaffiliated column, but who often vote with the Republicans. The 2016 election indicated the tide has turned, and candidates running as Republicans have a greater chance of winning from the bottom to the top of the ticket.

GOP Party Chairman Kenneth Henson declined to comment saying he's fed up with politics. His term expires in early winter, and unless he "falls and hits his head on something," he won't be seeking re-election.

Alcohol sales

Except for a brief period prior to Prohibition — a constitutional amendment that banned the sale, production or transportation of alcohol in the U.S. between 1920 and 1933 — alcohol sales have been banned in Haywood County.

Three municipalities in the county, first Waynesville, then Maggie Valley and Canton, previously took advantage of a state law to clear the way for alcohol sales within town limits by holding public votes. However, for establishments outside these municipalities, sale of alcohol, either in dining establishments or retail locations was illegal.

That changed this year when voters overwhelmingly approved the sale of both beer and wine in duly licensed locations across the county.

The process started in April when the Haywood County commissioners approved a measure allowing voters to weigh in on allowing beer and wine sales in the remaining portions of the county.

There were ballot measures allowing the sale of beer, both on premises (restaurants, clubs, etc.) and off-premises (places such as grocery or convenience stores), and of wine, both on and off premises. Every measure passed by a comfortable margin, clearing the way for wider availability of alcohol across the county, including within the town of Clyde, the only town in the county that hadn't authorized a vote previously.

As of late December, Ferguson Supply in Fines Creek, Food Lion in Clyde, Time Out Market, Tobacco Barn in Clyde, Sam's Mart truck stop, Ferrara Pizza and Pasta in Clyde and Sorrells Merchandise Company on Jonathan Creek had all applied for liquor permits.


Contentious issue

As with many areas in the South, alcohol was once a touchy — and controversial — topic in Haywood.

A review of the 1966 issues of The Waynesville Mountaineer shows that alcohol problems frequently made the front page.

In January, Waynesville Police Chief A. P. Evans told a local civic group that "strong drink" was his department's greatest problem. Out of 1,546 arrests the previous year, he attributed 1,100 of those to alcoholic beverages.

A menace that was a close second, he said, was gambling in the form of baseball, butter and egg lottery pools.

He suggested developing a year-around recreation program to keep juveniles busy.

In February, sisters Miss Maude Mehaffey, 72, and Mrs. Willie Cochran, 66, of Waynesville, were given the most severe sentences that had been seen in several years for violating prohibition laws.

After a three-month investigation, ABC officers accused both of selling alcoholic beverages, charges to which both pleaded guilty. The women were selling liquor for $4 a pint.

The sisters were sentenced to two years in prison with the sentence suspended for five years, during which time they could not possess any alcohol, even for personal consumption.

Solicitor Glenn Brown prosecuted the case, while defense attorney Felix Alley defended them, saying Miss Mehaffey "had fed more hungry mouths than any other woman in Waynesville."

Later that month, N.C. Superior Court Judge Hugh Campbell, proposed that Haywood County should have an ABC system to ensure a measure of control over the possession and sale of alcohol in the county. He suggested allowing alcohol to be legally sold in ABC stores, which would drastically reduce, if not eliminate, prohibition law violations and also raise income.

Campbell’s remarks capped a two-week Superior Court session where 19 individuals were tried on charges of liquor law violations.

"The trials called attention once again to one of Haywood’s most persistent moral and legal problems: What to do about the sale of alcoholic beverages," wrote Clifton B. Metcalf, editor of The Waynesville Mountaineer.

For the issue to be considered, petitions would need to be signed by at least 15 percent of the registered voters who cast ballots in last gubernatorial election, or include about 2,500 signatures.

Three ministerial groups went on record opposing the petition, and those seeking elected office lined up in opposition. The May primary election came and went, with no mention of an ABC vote. Since ABC elections couldn't be held during the General Election, Haywood County would remain a dry county for at least another year.

Also in May, Jerry Smith, whose age was listed as "about 40," along with his wife and older brother, Oliver, were charged with manufacturing moonshine liquor in his home on Dix Creek.

The news account described the operation as two heavy oil drums with a combined capacity of 1,000 gallons. Gas burners were used in the operation that was housed within 10 feet of the Smith home.

During the raid, then Sheriff Jack Arrington said Smith picked up a pistol and started for his car, indicating he intended to locate the person who reported him. Arrington disarmed Smith and took his bullets.