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Luquire finds niche lobbying against Sunday alcohol sales in Georgia

Jerry Luquire’s phone rang on Thursday, signaling something that has long eluded the current president of the Georgia Christian Coalition: A political victory.

Luquire, who in the past 35 years has lost three campaigns for public office, had been lobbying legislators to reject Senate Bill 10, which would have allowed counties and cities to let voters decide whether to permit the Sunday sale of alcohol.

When he answered his cell phone Thursday, he learned that the bill would not be moving from the Rules Committee to the floor for debate and a vote.

For at least the time being, Georgia would remain one of three states, with Indiana and Connecticut, that doesn’t sell alcohol in stores on Sundays.

“That is good news,” he told the caller. “That is fantastic.”

Suddenly, the 72-year-old Columbus resident finds himself a policymaker after all. Since the beginning of this legislative session, he’s been calling and sending e-mails to senators and representatives and making the 100-mile drive to Atlanta two or three times a week to lobby them in person.

In the process, he’s become a leader in the fight against Sunday alcohol sales.

“I don’t know when I’ve read more about Jerry in the Atlanta media than I have with this issue,” said Sen. Josh McKoon, R-Columbus.

Luquire knows the alcohol bill could come up again -- even before the session’s end -- but for now he’s satisfied the cork’s in the bottle.

“Everything I’ve ever done has prepared me for this,” he said.

Gaining a taste for power

Luquire says his experience as a radio and TV broadcaster led to his interest in politics.

“Being in the media, you get close to politicians,” he said. “You see their power potential and you like it. It gives you the chance to do good, but there’s also the danger of doing badly.”

A native of Durham, N.C., Luquire took broadcasting jobs in Charlotte and Atlanta before being hired by WRBL Radio in Columbus in 1962.

“I’m the only one in my family in radio -- the only nut, you might say,” Luquire told the Columbus Ledger when he arrived in town.

A year later, he said, “I hate government control of people, their business and thoughts -- most of all their thoughts.”

Luquire stayed in radio for about three years before stints in advertising and public relations. Then in 1966, at the age of 28, he became administrative assistant for Georgia Congressman Jack Brinkley, a Democrat.

Luquire has also started a nonprofit business school and a publishing company, which he later sold, as well as heading the Columbus Census Office and working for Aflac in advertising and promotions.

In 1976, Luquire made the first of three runs for public office. He ran against retired advertising executive Jack Bassett for city council and was narrowly defeated. In 1994, he ran for the school board and lost. In Columbus, local elected positions are nonpartisan.

A former Democrat, Luquire mostly identified himself as independent, he said, until about five years ago when he declared himself a Republican.

“I probably had Republican thoughts since (President Ronald Reagan),” he said. “The party believes people can do things and don’t need to be supported by the government.”

In 2008, Luquire ran for the Georgia House seat vacated by Vance Smith. He lost in the Republican primary to Smith’s son, Kip, in what he calls “the worst beating I ever had.”

A year later, in the fall of 2009, he became president of the Georgia Christian Coalition.

“I had to lose to learn,” he told the Ledger-Enquirer that year.

When asked if he will run for office again, he points to the performance of Kip Smith.

“I was beat by someone who’s done a good job,” he said.

Luquire said his campaigns and media experience have helped him accomplish his current mission with the Georgia Christian Coalition.

“I think I’m more effective now because I’m recognizable,” he said last week. “I’ve made a number of friends along the way.”

As for whether his stance against government control conflicts with his fight against a Sunday alcohol sales referendum, he contends that this matter is different: “We all have rules that make decisions for people.”

Losing a taste for alcohol

Luquire said he quit drinking 31 years ago when he became a deacon at Edgewood Baptist Church.

He taught Sunday school to high school students, and he would warn them about the dangers of alcohol. The Rev. David Howle, Edgewood’s pastor for 30 years, said his son was in Luquire’s class.

“He might say, ‘Your mom and dad aren’t here. Did any of you get to drinking last night?’ ”

Such a direct approach isn’t unusual for Luquire, Howle said.

“He is very unique. He has a real compassion and heart, but he may express it differently than most people,” he said. “He may shock a person by coming across strongly, but that’s his nature.”

Luquire said smoking was always his stronger vice. He quit that, too, on Christmas Day 1981. He said his wife, the former Joyce Warren, and their two sons, Brace and Bryan, stayed after him until he did.

The Rev. Ray Newman, who directs the Ethics and Public Affairs office of the Georgia Baptist Convention, was among those in Columbus who fought alcohol sales in restaurants in the early 80s. He said his old mission is similar to Luquire’s current one against Sunday sales.

“We’re all concerned about freedom and moral issues,” Newman said. “He carries that same heart.”

Luquire counts the Georgia Baptist Convention and Georgia Conservatives in Action as allies in his battle against the bill. He declined to name specific legislators who were for, and against, his cause.

“I don’t like to identify them,” he said. “They’re all my friends.”

McKoon said he considers Luquire a personal friend and that they both “fit the category of political junkie.” While he said he was representing his constituents and wouldn’t reveal his position on the alcohol bill, McKoon said he spent plenty of time listening to Luquire at the Capitol.

“He was always respectful,” McKoon said. “He’s not one to wag his finger. He presented his perspective in a dispassionate manner.”

Another friend is Ed DuBose, president of the Georgia conference of the NAACP. The two met in 1998, when DuBose was branch president in Columbus. Luquire became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People in 1999, DuBose said.

“We’ve got a history -- some people might look at it as strange. I don’t know that I’m a liberal, but I’m more to the left than he is,” said DuBose, who applauded Luquire’s work in helping defeat the alcohol bill. “I think it’s a victory for God.”

Jim Tudor of the Georgia Association of Convenience Stores has debated Luquire a few times over the issue.

“One of the things we can agree on is this is not Christian vs. non-Christian,” Tudor said. “Jerry and I are both people of faith. ... We just have a serious disagreement about whether people in local communities should be able to vote on it.”

Though he’s happy about the latest development with the alcohol bill, Luquire says he’s sure it’ll come up again, and he’s staying vigilant.

And he’s adding another target: casinos. The Legislature is considering the issue of gambling machines in tourist locations.

“We can’t find where gambling does a city good,” Luquire said.

Allison Kennedy, 706-576-6237