Vote on I-1183 is over, but questions continue to swirl

Most precincts in Island County gave I-1183 a 60-percent
Most precincts in Island County gave I-1183 a 60-percent 'yes' vote, while just six precincts voted against the measure.
— image credit: Brian Kelly / The Record

Thursday was Day Two and another day of uncertainty for Ken Vaughan.

Vaughan owns the liquor store in Freeland, and like other state-licensed contract liquor sellers, he’s found there are no easy answers after voters approved Initiative 1183 Tuesday and took the state out of the liquor business.

“It’s a big change. It’s a big change for everyone,” he said.

Vaughan has been thinking about I-1183 for months. He thought early on it would pass, and began making a business plan on how he would transition from a business that gets its inventory upfront from the state without charge, to a new model where he has to fill his shelves based on what’s in his bank account.

He started writing down questions the other day to get ready for an emergency meeting Sunday for a committee made up of contract sellers from across the state. He’s got two pages’ worth now.

What are the new rules? Can he get financing? Dip into his retirement? What if the biggest grocery store on the South End, the one across Main Street from the business he’s had for 15 years, decides to sell liquor? That would take away half his business, he figures.

“There’s so many loose ends. What will I be paying for booze? How much should it be marked up?”

“There’s a question in every question.” Vaughan said.

“It’s Day Two. And nobody knows the answers.”

Washington voters passed I-1183 with a 59-percent “yes” vote on Election Day.

The measure was passed by voters in Island County, as well, though the margin of approval was tighter.

Voters on Whidbey and Camano islands voted 52 percent in favor of I-1183.

According to the Record’s analysis of precinct returns, conducted after the second tally of ballots Wednesday, voters in 77 of Island County’s 83 precincts voted to approve the measure.

The measure failed to get a majority vote in just six precincts. Four of those precincts were on South Whidbey, and the “no” vote was strongest near Langley.

Langley’s two precincts voted against I-1183, as did Sandy Point, the precinct that rings the city to the south and east. The precinct of Maxwelton also rejected I-1183.

Two precincts in Oak Harbor also voted against the initiative: Oak Harbor 9 and Oak Harbor 17. Oak Harbor 9 is the precinct that includes the Skagit Valley College campus, the Navy’s Seaplane Base and the neighborhoods south of West Crescent Harbor Road and west to North Reservation Road. Oak Harbor 17 is the precinct along Northwest Crosby Avenue on the northwestern edge of the city.

The opposition in those six precincts, however, was not strong. “Yes” voters collected between 48 and 49 percent of the vote in the areas that rejected the measure.

Though voters on Whidbey and Camano islands gave the measure a passing mark of 52 percent overall, the initiative was strongly supported in many precincts throughout the county. A total of 28 precincts had a “yes” vote of 65 percent or above, and six precincts had a “yes” vote above 70 percent.

Voters in Polnell Precinct, a traditionally conservative area that sits just east of Oak Harbor 9 (one of the precincts with a majority “no” vote) approved I-1183 with a 75-percent “yes” vote.

John Lindemans, a Polnell resident, said he voted for it.

“It’s not like I’m living in a neighborhood of drunks,” Lindemans said.

“Convenience is what it’s all about,” he said. “Eighteen years ago I came from California. And in California you can go into a convenience store and pick up your cocktail.”

There were other reasons to approve I-1183, he said.

“I think it’s kind of stupid to rent and buy and own all those [state] stores and have all those employees. It doesn’t make sense to me.”

Lindemans said he also expects prices to go down once shopping markets get into the liquor business.

“We’re going to have competition, so it’s going to be cheaper,” he said.

I-1183 also got high marks on Camano Island.

The precincts of Maple Grove, Countryclub 1, Triangle Cove 1, Sunset 1 and Sunset 2 all gave the measure a 70-percent “yes” vote or higher.

Carolyn Stone was in the 25 percent minority in her Triangle Cove 1 precinct.

What happened Tuesday was “not a good thing,” she said.

She’s worried about more underage kids being able to get their hands on alcohol, more impaired drivers on the road, more problems for more families.

“I’m just sick about it,” Stone said.

“I think we’re going to see more and more and more problems.”

Stone can remember the families her husband Bernie, a retired pastor, has counseled.

“It’s broken up so many homes that he’s counseled,” Stone said.

She doesn’t drink, and she was upset at the millions upon millions of dollars thrown at the “yes” campaign by Costco.

“What are we evolving to? It’s frightening,” she said.

Vaughan, the liquor store owner in Freeland, agreed that the amount of publicity over I-1183 was inescapable.

“Every time you turned around it was crammed in your face,” he said.

“I don’t think I was surprised that it passed,” he added. “But I was just dumbfounded that it passed 60-40. It was an incredible beat-down.”

Vaughan said he’s got more days of doubt ahead. He hasn’t heard if the nearby Payless will sell liquor, but up the highway in Bayview, the Goose Grocery will offer it to customers.

“Right now, all of us are just scrambling,” he said.

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