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Tuesday Tributes
And Now—Some Good News About Alcohol and Politics

By Charles Olken

I admit to being a political junkie. Not that I am that much of an activist, mind, but I do like following the day in and day out battles between the forces of darkness and the troops of saving grace. I’ll let you decide which is which.

We don’t talk much in these parts about the political aspects of the wine and alcohol business because things in that arena seem to move at a glacial pace. Even now, eighty years after Repeal, there are communities in this country that remain “dry”. There are still states that control the sale of alcohol so tightly that only they can be engaged in that practice lest the private marketplace turn everyone into drunken lunatics.

But things are changing as the country matures and the forces of moderation turn both teetotalers and boozers into responsible drinkers. We may not yet be ready to agree on whether women and their doctors or male-dominated legislatures can decide issues of women’s health, but we surprisingly are seeing bi-partisan cooperation that is meant to liberalize (and what a loaded term that has become) alcohol-controlling regulations.

The public battles regarding wine shipping have perhaps been the most visible view of this trend towards letting adults be adult about running their lives. A recent report in Politico (a valued source of information about the body politic), unfortunately entitled “States Uncork New Booze Bills”, contains some very heartening news. With New Jersey about to become an open-shipping state, such laws, as the one about to go into effect there, now exist in 39 states.

There is still a long way to go, of course. Eighteen states still run so-called “state stores”. Apparently the very same people who would privatize Social Security have so far been unwilling to privatize wine sales. And Sunday blue laws that do not permit the sale of alcohol on that “honored day” are slowly giving in to the will of the people. The example that makes me happiest comes from that bastion of conservatism, the State of Georgia, where the Young Dems and the Young Republicans banded together to advocate Sunday sales. I say “Good on ‘em”. There is hope for our young folk, after all.

Admittedly, the pace of change is still only slightly faster than glacial, but any increase in that pace is welcome news indeed. And on this day when our taxes are due, good news is better than the alternative.


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Complicated issue...
by James McCann
Posted on:4/17/2012 10:36:44 PM


It seems the momentum in favor of liberalization is unstoppable now, even if it is not moving as quickly as we would like.  The issue of privatization; however, is very complicated, as in many states, including PA and VA, it is the Republicans for and the Dems against.


State Stores
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/18/2012 1:40:40 AM

Mr. McCann--

My sense is that, sooner or later, consumer pressure is going to overcome the pressure from employee unions and that some compromise will be reached. There are ways to protect workers, esp those with longevity and pension issues.

But, ultimately, and not necessarily immediately or all at once, these kinds of artificial barriers to commerce will be reduced. No State is ever going to give up control because of the revenue issue first and foremost, because of the pressure from the distribution lobby secondly, because of the employee pressure and on and on, including pressure from the drys who see evil lurking in alcohol.

State Stores
by James McCann
Posted on:4/18/2012 8:26:31 AM

Politics makes strange bed fellows... and I suspect that each state has a very unique situation when it comes to privatization, as each entrenched system is unique.  In PA, where I am very, very close to the privatization negotiations, it breaks down this way:

1. Employee unions opposed (of course)

2. Distributors strongly in favor (because they only collect small broker fees on most wines and spirits, and are marginally profitable under the system)

3. Neo-prohibitionists and Quakers against (putting pressure on their Rupublican reps which typically represent these districts)

4. Inner city Dem reps against, very concerned about a proliferation of stereotypical urban, corner stores selling pints and half pints

State Stores
by Charlie Olken
Posted on:4/18/2012 9:09:26 AM

Mr. McCann--

Thanks for the recap of the state of play in Pennsylvania.

Good luck.


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