More than 40 years have passed since a young, dark-haired businessman from Rocky Mount, Republican Jim Gardner, toppled an incumbent Democratic congressman and made a name for himself in politics. He’d already been a man in a hurry, co-founding the franchise store of the Hardee’s restaurant chain in 1961. Following a short stay in Congress, Gardner made several unsuccessful runs for governor and served a term as lieutenant governor under GOP Gov. Jim Martin.
These days, Gardner’s campaigning is nonpartisan. As chair of the state ABC Commission, which regulates alcohol, Gardner at 82 is pushing to curb underage drinking. There have been many deaths involving young people, drinking and automobiles over recent years. In July, a UNC-Chapel Hill student, 19, was going the wrong way on Interstate 82 in Orange County and hit a Jeep, killing three people. He has been charged with murder, and police say he used a fake ID to get drinks in Chapel Hill bars.
“Maybe if we had done this 15 years ago,” Gardner said, “maybe it wouldn’t have happened.”
“This” is a powerful advertising campaign to raise awareness about underage drinking and its consequences. In one commercial, the “Talk It Out” campaign shows a mother pinning a corsage on her daughter, but a more distant shot shows the daughter is in a casket. All sorts of ads in all sorts of media are planned to ensure that parents and kids see them and that parents make their kids aware of the potentially deadly consequences of drinking.
The money for the campaign is coming from the ABC revenues from alcohol sales.
It’s believed that earlier campaigns against smoking were successful in reducing it among young people.
There is one part of the debate that Gardner didn’t address with The News & Observer. That is whether the drinking age of 21 does harm as well as good. Presumably, having the age there instead of at 18 or 19 for beer and wine, which is where it was until a national standard was established almost 30 years ago, curbed some problems. But it might be worth studying whether the higher minimum age encourages “binge drinking,” wherein underage teenagers feel the need to drink all they can, when they can.
Gardner’s focus on the issue is valuable, as is his energy. This is his best campaign ever.