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Will The AK Liquor Lobby Benefit From Its Investment In The AK Legislature? *UPDATE*

When the word “lobby” is used in Alaska, the first thing that logically springs to mind is Big Oil. However, there is a very powerful lobby which has reigned supreme in this state longer than the oil companies and it revolves around Alaska’s favorite drug-of-choice, alcohol.

Why is the alcohol lobby so influential in Alaska? The first picture that comes to mind is that of Alaska’s early Wild West days, including the Gold Rush of the 1890s. Along with these hopeful gold miners came early entrepreneurs and colorful vice-peddlers who discovered a different kind of “gold mining” in the “Land of the Midnight Sun.” However, another gold rush…the “black gold” rush of the 1970s and the building of the Alaska Oil Pipeline…resulted in the modern explosion of Alaska’s nightlife. Night clubs, cabarets and various sources of entertainment, mostly all involving alcohol, sprung up in Alaska’s population centers that attracted pipeline workers on hiatus.

Less flamboyant but probably the primary reason for the lobby’s power is Alaska’s multi-million dollar tourist industry which supports hundreds of hotels and restaurants. These owners are represented by a monied organization called the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailer Association (Alaska/Anchorage CHARR). Not surprisingly, a virtual who’s-who of Alaska politics (both parties) find the organization, its related PACs and members among their biggest campaign donors.

Yesterday, Lisa Demer of the ADN wrote about House Bill 125 which aims to transfer the Alaska Beverage Control Board (an enforcement agency) from the State of Alaska Department of Public Safety to the Department of Commerce, a branch of the State government not known for “enforcement.” The bill was introduced by the Alaska Legislative Budget & Audit Committee and their Chair, Representative Mike Hawker. Hawker also happens to be a recipient of at least $1250.00 from hospitality PACs in 2010. Just with a very cursory and incomplete search in the APOC database of other members of the committee, I was able to see that Rep. Bill Thomas, Rep. Kurt Olson, and Sen. Hollis French were also recipients of CHARR money in 2010.

Why is this significant?

It seems that the industry REALLY wants this change. From the ADN article:

One side, led by the bar, liquor store and restaurant lobby, says the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board is consumed by its police role and treats businesses selling alcohol like criminal organizations.

The other side includes public health officials and law enforcement, who oppose what they see as a weakening of the ABC Board’s capabilities. A change proposed at the urging of the liquor lobby would simply move the board from one state agency to another, but the opponents say it is sorely misguided, considering the trouble that alcohol abuse causes across Alaska.

The article points out that the ABC Board itself is divided on the issue, but it’s the “alcohol industry” board members who are the ones that want the move to the Department of Commerce. The question is, why? Even more curious, why has this “recommended” change come on the heals of a report by the Legislative Audit and Budget Committee checking up on the ABC Board’s last move…from the Department of Revenue TO THE DEPT. OF PUBLIC SAFETY in 2004?

From the report:

Regarding recent audits, testimony indicated the administration and operations of the ABC Board have greatly improved under the tenure of Director Gifford, who received high praise from all parties. Testimony also indicated the 2004 move of the ABC Board to Public Safety had been successful in achieving the more rigorous enforcement atmosphere which had served as the original justification for the transference. These positive points were counter-balanced, however, by recognition that the cultural shift towards a more exclusively enforcement mentality had inadvertently created an adversarial relationship between the ABC Board and industry and, in the words of ABC Board Chair Klein, an apparent loss of recognition of and/or respect for the industry’s “commercial aspects”.

To recap, the move from the Department of Revenue to the Department of Public Safety in 2004 was a complete success at acheiving the established goals! Not only that, but Director Gifford has improved the operations and has received high praise from everyone!

Yet, somehow an “adversarial” relationship has developed?

Perhaps it’s important to note that ABC Board Chair Bob Klein is also the Sales Director for Brown Jug liquor stores. This past summer, Brown Jug and the other package stores came under fire for refusing to honor a promise made to the Anchorage Assembly. In light of a virtual explosion of public inebriate activity in Anchorage neighborhoods, the package stores agreed in the spring that, if Assemblyman Mike Gutierrez dropped the Ordinance he proposed to force the package stores to card EVERYONE regardless of age, they would do so voluntarily. (There are about 1,000 people in the State of Alaska with “red striped” licenses–chronic drunk drivers who have been forbidden from purchasing alcohol. Also, it’s been suggested that such a move might inhibit some of the chronic inebriates from being able to purchase in neighborhoods like Fairview and Mountain View. )

By August, that agreement fell apart.

So the Assembly took the next step…it passed a law October 2010 allowing Downtown City Council to regulate its own neighborhood alcohol package stores:

The city of Anchorage would crack down on some stores selling cheap liquor often purchased by street inebriates under rules to be studied by four community councils.

The rules are based on a law approved by the Anchorage Assembly for the Downtown Community Council district.

The law passed this week prevents the sale of wine costing less than $10 a bottle, six-packs of beer costing less than $6 and bottles of liquor priced less than $10 or smaller than 750 milliliters.

The law also mandates that individual containers have stickers identifying what store they came from and it prohibits stores from posting prices or beer signs on windows.

Community councils for Mountain View, Northeast, Fairview and Government Hill now are looking toward restrictions in their districts.

This is not meant to keep “poor people” from drinking because the targeted items are not bought by “normal” people who just want to have a beer while watching the game. They are generally “fortified” alcohol products that taste terrible and are meant to get folks intoxicated quickly…items bought by underage and pathological drinkers. If enforced, this law should cause the stores to lose the business of those inebriates who concentrate on the fortified alcohol products. Also, the stickers would go a long way to identifying which stores were selling the most alcohol to those public inebriates as well as drunk drivers if they are pulled over with alcohol in the car.

Last week, Assemblyman Gutierrez also kept the promise he made last spring: If the liquor industry didn’t honor its responsibility to the public and voluntarily assist in curbing drunk driving and “provide responsible service” like the Alaska CHARR website claims are their “top priorities,” then he would allow the public to make the decision for them. This April, voters will get to decide if the liquor stores must card everyone that comes in to purchase. While nothing is certain, it’s hard to vote against such a simple way to keep some drunk drivers off the street.

It seems unlikely that the emergence of HB 125 this week is a coincidence. The only way the industry will be able to avoid dealing with these new restrictions is if they can insure that these new laws are not enforced. What better way than to move the ABC Board into the Department of Commerce…an agency whose goal is profit and resource development?

Because, while these new rules are important steps towards 1) getting drunk drivers off the road 2) thwarting more underage drinkers from buying directly from the stores and 3) addressing our community public inebriate problems, they will also go a long way to digging into the CHARR member’s profits. Per a 2006 study from Columbia University, about 38% of the alcohol industry profits nationwide come from pathological and underage drinkers. Since they are a business, their motivation is profit — wherever that profit may come from.

When Mr. Klein of Brown Jug stated that the ABC Board has a loss of “respect for the industry’s “commercial aspects,”” what he didn’t understand is that applies to all of us. Alaskans will no longer tolerate the alcohol industry’s lip service to “responsibility” while they make 38% of their profits on the lives of our kids and the victims of drunk drivers.

Today, the Alaska Legislature Labor and Commerce Committee will have a teleconference, including House Bill 125, starting at 3:15 pm. I was told by Rep. Hawker’s office that they will be taking public testimony. In any event, please email your opinions on HB 125 to the Alaska Senate and the members of the Alaska House.


Today, at the hearing of the House Labor & Commerce Committee, HB 125 was “scheduled but not heard” — in other words, they were supposed to but they didn’t talk about it. I am wondering if perhaps your reactions may have had something to do with that 🙂



66 Responses to “Will The AK Liquor Lobby Benefit From Its Investment In The AK Legislature? *UPDATE*”
  1. The liquor lobby in Juneau has a lot of influence because a lot of their lobbying is done while Legislators are UNDER the influence.
    Ever been to the Baranoff?

    Mark Springer

  2. Lynn says:

    Don’t forget how the owner of the Gaslight got off with a wrist slap regarding the rolled over car a few yrs back. He should have been put out of the liquor bi$. I think cash changed hands.

  3. El Jefe says:

    Booze and legislators. What could possibly go wrong ?

  4. Moose Pucky says:

    Well, how about that? It’s not just all official lobbying that takes place in a bar. It’s specifically the alcohol industry itself this time.

    How about some lobbying time on the sandflats in the slough? Or the upper watershed? Or on the mudflats?

    We should be demanding equal time…just sayin’.

  5. AKjah says:

    I dont get how transfer of ABC board from public safety to commerce is going to help anyone other than the new people who run it. The oversight is what is constant here. Now i do know the ABC board has been over board on the enforcement aspect. Ask any waitress who served one of their underage kids with false ID who want a beer with their burg. Sent in by a ABC goon. How much is this going to waist tax payer $’s. I am all for enforcement of the law just not playing games with it all to cost US THE PEOPLE more for no good reason. You know if they outlawed alcohol all together we could have a new retirement plan!!

    • How would you make sure that bar staff are checking IDs properly and not serving underage kids?

      • AKjah says:

        Havin been a Kook at many a restaurant i know how servers can get beside themselves in the course of a shift. I have no problem with enforcement,Just not at the detriment of a hapless waitress who cant afford to lose their job from a simple screwup. What i am saying is that servers don’t willingly serve minors. If the minor try’s to buy then they are the criminal in the situation. And to me trying to dupe a server to serve an underage person criminal also. Looks alot like giving some dimwit extremist a fake bomb and then telling everyone you saved the world.

    • beth says:

      In our town, a college town, EVERYONE gets carded when they purchase alcohol. Even me, someone who has clearly passed their 21st birthday…by numerous decades.

      The PD knows which establishments (grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stores, restaurants, bars, etc.) don’t card and they, yes, send in an under-aged person to make a purchase. That doesn’t make them “goons”, though; as I see it, it makes them law enforcement.

      I feel badly for any one on the serving end who gets caught up in such operations, but Geeze, Louise! Part of their job is to check the ID and to refuse service if they’ve the least doubt as to its authenticity. They can always ask their boss/shift manager to check it out if they don’t want to be the bad guy refusing the alcohol. If the card looks and feels totally legit and the alcohol is served in good faith, that’s a different story…most of the time, however, the card is so bogus you can’t help but notice — no matter how cute or sweet-talking the person offering it for inspection is. beth.

      –I once had to pay for a keg that ‘got lost’ when the PD broke up a party out on one of the local farm fields…seems one of my DSs, upon getting his temp (paper) learner’s permit at 16, immediately was talked into changing his birthyear from 1978 to 1956 so they could have a kegger and celebrate this milestone accomplishment of his– amazing what an eraser, a fine-point black-ink pen, and a well-placed smudge can do on those paper jobbies. Who knew?– certainly not I…nor the liquor store where his friends drove him, apparently [wink, wink]. He presented the ‘smudged’ license to the seller and no questions were asked…he, clearly not 21 with his peach-fuzzed jaw and still-cracking voice, got the full keg. I was not a happy camper — those kegs are not cheap! b.

  6. Paula says:

    I don’t get it?

  7. HappyPlace says:

    Although he’s clearly lacking in even the most basic professional ethics and integrity, Joe McGinnis does deserve kudos for his apparent determination to establish the Devon College Fund.

  8. bob.benner says:

    He writes:

    “Trooper Wooten and how nearly all of us Rag Tags became pre-occupied with bringing him down, is a complicated story, less straightforward than describing the illegal coordination of the campaign with the RGA, or using an insider in the Halcro campaign to mine information, or phony letters-to-the-editors and op-eds. In those cases, we were running for office and felt the pressure of win-at-all-costs. Losing at the ballot meant losing the dream. On top of that, our chasing after Ruedrich, Fagan, Halcro, Lyda Green, Andree McLeod, ADN columnists, Governor Murkowski, John Binkley, and later, in 2009, an endless list of enemies, paled in comparison to the Trooper Wooten quest. And what, I wish to heaven I’d asked myself, was the importance to our job of governing Alaska in destroying Mike Wooten, and how was that remotely worth the hundreds and hundreds of man-hours spent trying to do so? How, for the love of God, would destroying him personally and professionally make the first family safer, as Sarah and Todd swore over and over was their main concern?

    “This tale, unfortunately, includes the worst of Sarah’s dysfunctional psyche and administration, including the compulsion to attack enemies, deny truth, play victim, and employ outright deception.

    “And while the seeds of the scandal were planted back in 2005 and continued unabated into 2008, the pathos was exponentially elevated when John McCain reached out to Sarah Palin as a savior for his floundering presidential ticket. As such, these events directly related to McCain’s own incompetent vetting process. As political Perfect Storms go, this resembled two Category Fives meeting head-on.”

  9. libby says:

    Andrew Halcro has a post about this, too. Sweet affirmation.

    AKM, I don’t understand what this means for you. It is a book I would buy in a minute, though!

    Looking forward to your take on the situation.

  10. Martha says:


    What is going on in the Alaskan journalistic/writers/bloggasphere ?

    Alaska Dispatch

    ‘Tell-all’ book by ex-Palin aide leaked to media

    Amanda Coyne | Feb 18, 2011

    So how did the unpublished manuscript get leaked?

    An electronic copy of the book was forwarded to Alaska Dispatch reporter Craig Medred by author Joe McGinniss, who asked nothing be published prior to obtaining comment from Bailey and Devon. Bailey declined to comment Thursday night, referring questions to his agent. Devon could not be reached for comment.

    McGinniss, in an e-mail, said he was passing the manuscript along because it “has been widely distributed in (New York) without any request for confidentiality.” A best-selling author, McGinniss is writing his own Palin book. Last summer he rented the house next to hers at Lake Lucille in Wasilla, which caused a huge uproar.

    Reached Thursday night, Morris, the other co-author of Bailey’s book, denied that it was Devon, Bailey or he who sent out the book for publicity purposes.

  11. hedgewytch says:

    And the hypocracy continues.

    I live in a remote village. We got the drinkers and the smokers. The drinkers are the ones doing the DV, crashing their cars, neglecting their children, killing themselves and injuring others. Yet the village responded by cracking down on the pot smokers. Requiring madatory drug testing. Yep, that solved the problem – those workers we had that smoked on their off hours and showed up to work and actually worked, got fired. Those who are drinking all night long and showing up drunk (if at all) still have their jobs. And wouldn’t you know, those that are in “power” are drinkers, not smokers.

    Does anyone besides myself see the same thing happening on a larger scale “in town”?

    • Katmai says:

      On a larger scale….it’s happening all across the United States. Alcohol sales, consumption, and resulting affects of alcohol consumption such as health, auto-related tickets and jailing, auto accidents resulting in hospitalization and/or death are all sickenly integrated into this huge, seldom changing cash cow. Too much money is cycled from the sale of alcohol, which I truly believe is THE gateway drug. Weed is the scapegoat, it is lied about and demonized to keep the eyes off the real culprit. As a bartender of @20 years in multiple states and scenarios, the sicknesses I’ve witnessed due to alcohol addiction is mindboggling.

  12. Random_reader says:

    Nothing ever good happens when you combine guns and liquor no matter where, no matter when.

    The same goes for money and politicians.

    • jojobo1 says:

      Right you are Random Reader We just had some police officers at a party who drank to much and used their wepons without cause is what I heard.

  13. Lacy Lady says:

    Our large super market sells beer and liquour. However about a year ago, they bought a building a block from the market where they sell “Wine and Spirits”. Don;t know if they sell on Sundays. I don’t drink , but have bought wine for gifts.

  14. barbara says:

    me—> raised by an alcoholic mother. daughter killed by an angry drunk in a car while crossing the street 13 days after her 21st birthday. i think statistics specific to Alaska with regard to DUI’s and alcohol-related crimes would be very helpful. do you have a MADD chapter?

  15. terry says:

    It’s the same in Virginia. Lobbyists for the distributors write the legislation, pass the money around to the key political players, and ensure that Virginians pay to maintain an outdated, wasteful and inefficient distribution system. And they have the gall to call it “free enterprise”.

  16. auni says:

    On Huff Post this am check the speech by Jackie Speoer D CA, after Chris Smith did a bit about abortion.

  17. beth says:

    LKB – are there any stats specific to AK ref: selling alcohol to underage and public inebriates? I notice the 38% stat is for “pathological and underage drinkers” nationwide and was wondering if the State and/or local (Anchorage) patrol/police offices had more specific info from which numbers could be gathered for presentation. I’d imagine, with the state’s unique makeup, the stats (for both/either the state and/or Anchorage) would be a good bit higher than what is shown in the nationwide study.

    Also, too, with the incidence of domestic violence –to include battery, sexual/incest, etc.– being absolutely sky-high in AK, are there any stats on how many of those incidences involve alcohol? Statewide; city wide? If those numbers are anywhere near as large as I have a suspicion they’d be, seems to me that that would put to rest any doubts that regulation of alcohol sales has to be kept exactly where it is: with the Dept of Public Safety. beth.

    –Anyone taking bets on how soon into the conference the term “nanny state” will be brought up by those wanting to make the switch of alcohol sales-regulating departments? b.

    • The studies done by UAA Department of Justice show that there are two Alaskas (as we already knew)…urban and rural. In urban Alaska, alcohol/drugs may play a factor more often statistically in DV/Sexual Assault. In rural Alaska, that is not the case.

      • beth says:

        But if it plays a significant role in either place, wouldn’t that be relevant? And what about studies/stats on state and/or local incidences of alcohol sales to underage and/or habitual drunks – any of those? beth.

        Ooops – forgot to say, LKB: Excellent write-up! Thank you for, once again, educating us so well. b.

        • Regarding experts I’ve talked to, alcohol and drug abuse can be looked upon as existing ALONG WITH whatever mental/emotional illnesses that perpetuate DV/sexual assault rather than being a cause of the problem.

    • kassaq says:

      to answer the question about statistics on violent crime and alcohol in Alaska, perhaps I can put a human perspective on it. I live in a small Alaska Native village near Aniak (about 3-400 miles west of Anchorage). My wife and her family were victums of long term sexual abuse much of it fueled by alcohol. There is no law enforcement locally and the Alaska State Troopers are slow to respond (please read the recent article in the anchorage daily news about the person who kept their family hostage at gunpoi

  18. Paula says:

    OT But something EVRYONE should read. Emergancy responder refused to go on Gabby Gifford shooting call:

    • A fan from CA says:

      Sounds like this poor guy just couldn’t handle the massacre. He stated that he voted for Gifford so he probably had a PTSD breakdown realizing what happened. Sure hope he gets needed help.

      • Carol says:

        I took an EMT class and one thing that was stressed was that responders MUST take care of themselves if they had any hope to take care of others. If this guy removed himself from the call because he thought he couldn’t handle it, he was exactly right and did exactly what he was trained to do.

        • jojobo1 says:

          I thought the same thing and had thought maybe the others wer republicans but at least the head guy said he supporte4d Giffords but who knows.Something had to be going on for this to happen

  19. Paula says:

    Pennsylvania is just now allowing some grocery stores to sell beer (but no more than a 12 pack at a time per person over 21). Superbowl Sunday I went to the beer selling grocier specifically so I could get my superbowl food & a superbowl 12 pack at the same time. But alas, one cannot buy beer on a Sunday before 11:30 a.m. and I was there at 9 a.m. Many alcohol laws are just SO stupid.

    • LisaB says:

      In Houston, at least, it’s mostly wet and you can buy beer and wine in the grocery store—although still not before noon on Sunday! I hated having to do two checkouts at Fred’s in Alaska.

      • beth says:

        Georgia is having a big discussion about alcohol sales on Sunday being left up to the individual cities/towns/municipalities. At the moment, all Sunday sales are banned –midnight to midnight. There are those who want to get rid of that law…and the push back against the proposal has been tremendous. Last time this came up, it went nowhere because the then-gov said he’d veto it. Current gov (also Repub… a “conservative” R, as his campaign ads assured citizens) has indicated he would sign it if it came across his desk. The question now is: Will there be a restriction in the law prohibiting Sunday sales before 11:30am? That’s what the ‘Holier-than-the-holiest-of-Saints’ are pushing for — strongly! beth.

        • beth says:

          Clarification: Sunday sales are banned on bottled/canned alcohol purchased from grocery stores, gas stations, liquor stores, etc. One can still purchase alcohol in a wet-county bar and, in some wet-counties, restaurants. ‘course the hours of wet-county restaurant and bar purchases are not across-the-board…some counties allow alcohol sales until midnight, others until 2am, others until 4am — it’s a mishmash, all locally regulated. beth.

          • Paula says:

            Yes, these laws are so stupid. I can go into any bar on a Sunday and drink until I drown, but cannot walk out of a bar with more than 2 six packs. And you can only buy wine at a winery or state run liquor store. The whole system is so screwed up. I think they sit around, get totaled, then in drunken hysterics make this shit up.

          • tewise says:

            The repubes in Ga. killed it, dead in the water.

          • beth says:

            Yuppers – the Georgia Baptist Convention got out their email lists (what did I hear – something like over 130K names/edresses,) and emailed all their listed pastors; they, in turn, emailed all their congregants and friends, who, in turn… and they all flooded the members under the Golden Dome with calls, faxes, and emails in opposition. It didn’t even get out of committee, so citizens (the majority of whom were for it, as far as I could gather) won’t get a change to vote on it. Sad, that — the additional revenue it would’ve generated for the state is much needed…and citizens sure did want to say what happened in their town, city, municipality. beth.

    • barbara says:

      i’m from CA where you can buy alcohol any time except between 2 am and 6 am and it just made me laugh here in NC when i was prevented from buying the beer my 27-year-old son had requested prior to his visit here over the holidays. and why? before noon on a sunday! lol

      • libby says:

        In Georgia, your son would have been out of luck unless you took him out for that beer. NO alcohol sales in GA on Sunday except at a bar or restaurant. Explain that to me if you can?

      • jojobo1 says:

        I live in a dry small village,well not so small now but back when I grew up here it was small.Now subdivisions moved in because we are a blue ribbon school district Any way no alcohol sold at all in the village,however a half mile away is a grocery store and a bar that do but the are considered part of another district.Always had to laugh at the hypocrites who went to church and from there to the bar for the rest of the day.Y^a all know how small towns Know what everyone else is up to,actually I think it is more like1/2 or 3/4 mile

  20. LKB- interesting article. Well written and informative,even I followed along with little effort. This sounds like a near classic case of one party’s desire to have business make the most profit with the least restrictions.

  21. vj says:

    Someone employed by the Brown Jug in “community relations” was a happy multiple contributor to Palin’s PAC until she quit.

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