Enough is enough: State should bow out of liquor biz

By Coy Barefoot

Our government has no business being in the liquor business. It's time for the Virginia state government to get out of the business of making money off a statewide monopoly on liquor sales. This is an embarrassing anachronism from the days of alcohol prohibition. Our government was not created to sell liquor. Our government was not founded to operate a profit-driven agency. Business is better left in the hands of business.

Washington state used to have the same 1920s-era monopoly on liquor that Virginia now has. But in a 2011 referendum, voters wisely put an end to that. Washington state privatized liquor sales last year. And you know what? The sky did not fall. Drunk driving is down, and the state is actually making more money. Go figure.

Governor Bob McDonnell (back in less scandal-ridden days), led a valiant effort to get the Virginia government out of the liquor business, but a coalition of Democrats and Republicans opposed him. Some Democrats did a lot of brow-wiping over the threat of losing millions of dollars the state makes selling booze. Some social conservatives did a lot of hand-wringing about the idea of a liquor store on every corner across the Commonwealth. The very same folks who endlessly beat the drum about less government and more free enterprise stood in the Governor’s way and against their own purported beliefs.

The day will come when a bipartisan group of leaders steps forward and does the right thing, and they will make history for all the right reasons. They will demonstrate a political courage we don’t see enough of these days in Richmond or Washington. That day can’t come soon enough. For those of us who believe that governments weren’t created to operate liquor stores, history is on our side. And the principles of liberty at the heart of our Constitution demand it.

It’s simply not true that if we privatize our liquor sales, there will suddenly be liquor stores on every corner and next to every school. That's a fallacious argument that ignores the government's role in regulation and licensing. And while we’re at it, let’s stop breaking up private stills. This nation was founded on a conviction that governments are created to safeguard, not to suppress, human freedom. That means if a woman is allowed to make a craft beer in her basement, she ought to be able to make a craft whiskey in her backyard, too. It literally shouldn’t be any of the state's business. Our government was not founded to protect people from themselves. Tragically, the Virginia ABC has become Nucky Thompson of HBO's Boardwalk Empire, with a crew of 120-plus armed agents working the state, looking for potential competitors who would dare to get in on their racket.

The America that stands for freedom from tyranny was born because just enough people were just angry enough to say enough is enough. They spoke truth to power. They finally stood up to overzealous, militarized law enforcement, to government bureaucrats run amok with excessive power, to corporate interests who exercised undue influence over their lives, their privacy, and their freedom. Each generation of Americans has been given its challenge to do the same. We now have ours.

I believe in my heart that the best days of this great nation are yet to come. But those days will only be realized if we are willing to do whatever we must do so that the treasure of liberty we have inherited is passed on to our children and our children's children stronger and more vibrant than how we found it. The most patriotic act we can do as Americans is simply to wake up, and be just angry enough to say enough is enough.

In 1807 Thomas Jefferson wrote, "It would seem impossible that an intelligent people with the faculty of reading and right of thinking should continue much longer to slumber under the pupilage of an interested aristocracy of priests and lawyers, persuading them to distrust themselves and to let them think for them... Awaken them from this voluntary degradation of mind. Restore them to a due estimate of themselves and their fellow citizens, and a just abhorrence of the falsehoods and artifices which have seduced them."

What happened here in our community the night of April 11 should be a loud wake-up call to all of us who take seriously our responsibilities as free citizens. Our tax dollars should not be spent to pay armed agents of the state to lie in wait in dark parking lots, following young college girls to their car, scaring them half to death. We should all be ashamed for letting it get to this point. We should do our best to immediately set things right, and err on the side of freedom.

If it is true, that we can't afford our schools and our roads and our public safety without operating a monopoly on liquor— supported by an armed crew of enforcers— then it only proves my point that we can and should do better than the government we've got. It's time Virginia. You've got no business being in the liquor business.

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We are in the minority. 32 states have private liquor sales. EVEN California allows privately operated liquor distribution and retail!

"Our government was not founded to protect people from themselves." I'd like to see that on a bumper sticker.

I agree. Let the private sector sell liquor. The prices will come down substantially.

When I first moved here 26 years ago, I couldn't believe that buying all non-beer-and-wine-booze was subject to the operating whims of a state agency. You see, I had heard that Virginia was this ultra conservative place that worshipped free enterprise and hated government regulation as much as it loved Jesus and hated the Devil. Imagine my shock on my first visit to the old C'ville Safeway -- back in LA, I could get my groceries and bourbon via one-stop-shopping (actual dedicated liquor-only stores are far less frequent in California than are normal grocery stores that can sell the full menu of legal adult medicines), but here I had to go to the goldern gubmint to find the necessary ingredients, That's hypocrisy spelled with a captial V and a capital A, in my book. I sure didn't vote for McDonnell, and would never vote for Cucciboy, but I sure do agree that it's high time that the state got out of the likker bizness. Why, just this last Labor Day, when I showed up at the ABC store at 6:01 pm, I felt like stealing and waiving a Don't Tread On Me flag due to it's early holiday closing, and ground my teeth knowing that my relatives back in Socialist Cali were free to buy their concoctions 24 hours a day at any lawfully operating supermarket.

I do hope that this column was somewhat metaphoric, with the liquor situation just a small symbol of the broad government overreach that is the current norm. It is no accident that the economy in the DC area is robust, while most of the country is in a slump.

Government should not be in the healthcare business, in the business of taking our hard-earned money to help others' retirement, of running large budget surpluses, and lots of other endeavors egomaniacal career politicians shove down our throats.

Coy could have substituted many words for "liquor" in his first sentence.

I have dim memories of my first foray into the Barracks Road VABC store, some 35 years ago, but I'm pretty sure that in those days it was set up with the kind of grim Spartan appearance that made you feel about on the same level as a family member visiting a prisoner in jail. At least that has changed.

Not sure I understand the "EVEN California" comment above... I'm pretty sure that the states that maintained state liquor stores after repeal of Prohibition were the states that still had blue laws & other remnants of early colonial theocratic ways. When I was a kid, "liquor store" in LA was a synonym for "convenience store", as in "Mom, I'm going down to the liquor store to buy a kite and some gum". That didn't raise an eyebrow.

Really? You don't understand what that comment means? Someone from a state where plastic bags are outlawed in many cities, a person has to practically beg the government to start a business, and when they do they will be harassed constantly with unbelievable labor and environmental regulations and high tax rates.

Yes, to most of the country, California represents a large behemoth of government that is slowly strangling it's businesses and chasing it's businesses to Arizona, Nevada, and Texas. Other examples are New York, Massachusetts, and Illinois. So when California is doing something RIGHT (private liquor sales, hurrah!), and Virginia is not, it's worth pointing out, look, even those regulation loving big government crazies in California don't do this! It serves as a contrast to how insane having state-run liquor stores in Virginia are.

Congratulations to your home state for being better than Virginia on this issue.

On second thought, I get your point, California, while being terrible for businesses, is more often better on personal freedom issues such as alcohol and drugs.

It's all relative, Dave, and each state tends to tax, regulate, and control behavior according to the values of its citizenry. It's just that in some states, the internal inconsistencies are more laughable. California has never, unlike most red states, advertised itself as the enemy of socialist thought or the last bastion of freemarketism. So, when it hyper-regulates, even when it does so under conservative Republican governors like St. Ronnie, it isn't setting itself up as a liar. Virginia, on the other hand, pretends it is in the vanguard of the tea bagger movement, but taxes, regulates, and imposes its social judgment on its citizenry in ways I never experienced in California and that any self-respecting libertarian must oppose; examples are: the Va car tax, the restrictions on lawful liquor sales, the recently enacted rules on abortion providers, the voter i.d. law, and the "moment of silence."

As reported in the Daily Progress, the liquor industry is a generous contributor to the Va. political system. As I understood the article, Crown Royal has a box at the Richmond NASCAR track, and often invites friends. A.B.C. wheels have reportedly enjoyed the races.

This year, while the $750,000 A.B.C. command vehicle looks for underage persons consuming beer, the Board members drink in the corporate box, and college girls dare to buy water at Harris Teeter, you can be assured the State has your best interests as their goal.

And as long as the liquor, wine and beer industry greases the political wheels, nothing will change.

Dave Anthony, you're a moron. If California is so terrible for business why is it such a hive of every type of cutting edge activity?
How much time you spent there anyway?

AngelEyes should be banned for attacking people on here.

She/he disagrees with Dave Anthony who appropriately identifies California as a state being run into the ground by a liberal / progressive. Cities are going bankrupt there. That's what's going to happen across the U.S. under such leadership. Shame on the people for electing people like that.

You're right that these comment boards should not be used for personal attacks. I'm surprised the Hook doesn't filter them out -- maybe no time, what with the coming absorption into C-Ville.
But you're mistaken about the cause of the bankruptcies of the Cal cities -- those localized econ collapses occurred during a Republic governorship, but even so the cause had less to do with who was running the state than with how those traditionally conservative towns managed their accounts and had not prepared for the collapse of the speculative housing price bubble (Stockton and San Bernardino are NOT hotbeds of liberalism, and paid the price when the free market failed).
Anyway, what's going on in Cal now is something many GOP governors couldn't get away with without being called heartless -- the Dem Governor is slashing state budgets right and left, and the economy is starting to rekick (shown, unfortunately for those who want to move there, in 20+% increases in property values since last year).

Cal Transplant...Unfortunately it's not just California. So many of the cities being run into the ground by poor democratic/liberal policies. Obviously the most notable one recently was Detroit. And Jerry Brown just keeps raising taxes in CA which causes more people to move out which further depletes the tax revenue. So he raises more taxes. Makes no sense and it's a vicious cycle.

Guys...this is not about California or political parties.

The issue addressed in the article is the incompetence of ABC. This comes from a political management team that responds to specific industry contributors.

If you have not done so already, read the article about the guy charged with a felony for having 8oz of untaxed spirits. He paid the taxes, which were less than $1.00