Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Stop running away from the truth about lobbyists: The wine bill

On very rare occasions I find myself in agreement with Democrats, and the failure of State Senator Shea Flinn's bill to legalize the sale of wine and liquor in grocery stores and the reasons for that failure are one of the few times you will find Davidson County Young Democrats' Chairman Sean Braisted and I come to agreement.

I disagree with Flinn about liquor sales on Sunday, largely because I'm old fashioned and I do not believe the Lord's Day, a day when much of this State is inclined to Divine Service, is a day when the bars and liquor stores should be open (then again, if it were up to me, most things would be closed on Sunday whether alcohol is served or not, and I am proud to live in a community where that is still largely the case), but I would have voted for the bill based on the larger principle involved: If the local Food City wants to sell Jack Daniel's or Beefeater, or a good bottle of Merlot they ought to have the right and I ought to have the choice whether or not to buy it there.

Needless to say, I am not buying State Senator Tim Burchett's argument as quoted in the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

Sen. Tim Burchett, R-Knoxville, a member of the panel, said he opposed the bills out of concern for encouraging alcohol use by youth. Juveniles are already obtaining alcohol illegally, he said, and "I just don't want to open up any more avenues."

Putting wine into the mix of busy supermarkets, Burchett said, would be a "recipe for disaster."

Before I say what I am about to say, let me preface it by saying that I have a lot of respect for Senator Burchett (in spite of his vote for John Wilder at the beginning of the last session). How can you not respect a man who is unafraid to use his gun? With that said, I will not unceremoniously ask Tim Burchett: Will you please cut the crap?

This was not about keeping alcohol out of the hands of juveniles, this was about the fact that there were two big-time liquor industry lobbyists at this gathering: Tom "Golden Goose" Hensley, the major lobbyist for the liquor wholesalers association, and David McMahan, the lobbyist for the liquor retailers association. Both parties want things the way they are, because as things stand, the wholesalers can jack up prices, while the retailers have no competition. This bill was not defeated out of any concern for keeping alcohol out of the hands of kids, this bill was defeated because powerful lobbyists and interest groups engineered the bill's defeat.

Let us be honest with the public about the role that paid lobbyists have in the passage or defeat of legislation. The Democrats have always been keen on hiding that reality. It may not change the system of things, but let's not hide that fact any longer with a bunch of meaningless tripe.

The reality is that A.) The sale of wine at the grocery store will not destroy mom and pop liquor stores because if you want the hard stuff (greater than 21 proof) you will only be able to get that at a liquor store, the manufacturers will see to that. B.) Though I am sympathetic to the liquor store operators' desire for Sunday off (and a bill that I wrote would have included that provision), had this bill passed, who says that mom and pop couldn't close on Sunday of their own volition? If the product selection is good and the price is right, it will not hurt their business all that badly.

As for keeping alcohol out of the hands of juveniles-trust me, the grocery chains will be extremely zealous in carding, they do not want the bad publicity of selling to any minors. How do I know this? Well, a few days ago when I wrote about taxation, I wrote of my terrible experience with taxes living in Cincinnati. One of the few things that was not terrible was that I could get good wine at the grocery store on the cheap. I do not remember ever not being carded, not once was I not asked for I.D., and I bought wine at the grocery all the time-and it was pretty obvious that I was over 21.

So cut the smokescreen, just admit that y'all scuttled the bill because of the liquor lobbyists-that was the real reason, and we all know it. I may not agree with it, but I can at least respect you for it. Quit hiding behind these less-than-real-sounding moral concerns and just tell the truth.



At Wednesday, March 14, 2007 6:51:00 PM, Anonymous john h said...

Bravo. The Tennessean tried to 'call out' Hensley, but pretty much has given up. Maybe the bloggers can smoke him out.

Good post, David.


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