CT News Junkie | OP-ED | Liquor Justice And Hail To Chief Murphy

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OP-ED | Liquor Justice And Hail To Chief Murphy

by | Mar 10, 2017 5:30am
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Posted to: Opinion

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Total Wine & More in Manchester


Like Lucy pulling the football away from the place-kicking Charlie Brown, members of the General Assembly have once again rebuffed Gov. Dannel P. Malloy in his efforts to reform Connecticut’s miserable liquor industry.

You’ve heard of social justice, economic justice, environmental justice? Well, meet liquor justice. Connecticut has the most oppressive and anti-competitive laws governing the sale and distribution of alcohol in the country. Portions of the laws date back to Prohibition, if not the Puritan era, and they punish the consumer in the name of protecting an entire class of retailers — mostly mom-and-pop package store owners — from meaningful competition. Legislative attempts to move toward a free market have mostly proved fruitless.

To his credit, Malloy has been able to take some baby steps since assuming office in 2011. In 2012, he managed to convince lawmakers the sky would not fall if they allowed package stores to open on Sunday, despite howls of outrage from package store lobbyist Carroll Hughes that Sunday hours would force many of the stores of out of business. Hughes, of course, was blowing smoke.

When I interviewed Malloy with the rest of the CT News Junkie editorial board about a year ago in his office at the Capitol, I asked Malloy what he had planned for 2016 in his quixotic quest for liquor justice. “I’m not sure,” he replied. “I usually try something every year.”

At least twice Malloy has tried to get the legislature to eliminate the state’s indefensible practice of mandating above-cost minimum per-bottle prices on wine and liquor in package stores.

Earlier this week, as sure as the snows melt in the spring, the legislature’s General Law Committee quietly spiked Malloy’s proposal to change Connecticut’s liquor laws for the better. The governor might be able to do an end-run and get some of the reform language into his tax bill, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

I’d say the best hope for liquor justice lies in a lawsuit filed by liquor behemoth Total Wine & More, which operates 150 stores in 21 states (four of them in Connecticut).

The suit alleges that the state’s alcoholic beverage policy amounts to “price-fixing by wholesalers” and thus runs afoul of the federal Sherman Anti-Trust Act of 1890.

Ironically, one of those named in the suit, state Department of Consumer Protection Commissioner Jonathan Harris, has joined Malloy in opposition to minimum pricing. Could this be one of those cases in which a state is rooting against itself in court? Stay tuned. The suit could go to trial next year.

* * * * * *

Chris Murphy is a lot of things. The junior senator from Connecticut is a smooth talker and has a knack for saying just the right thing without going too far out on a limb. In other words, he is a skilled politician — not a big risk taker.

But leader of the free world? At least that was the buzz last month as it became known that chief White House strategist Steve Bannon and his minions leaked to the New York Post that he was already digging up dirt on potential challengers to his boss in 2020.

Bannon was said to have had his eyes on a number of Democratic heavy-hitters, including Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, and Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA’s Dallas Mavericks. Murphy, only 43 and in his first term in statewide office, made the list. And Wikileaks published hacked emails revealing that Murphy had survived the first round of cuts to be Hillary Clinton’s running mate last year.

Since winning an upset victory over longtime incumbent Republican Congresswoman Nancy Johnson in 2006, Murphy has picked his issues carefully. He was an outspoken opponent of the war in Iraq, for example. Shortly after he was elected to the Senate, the Sandy Hook massacre took place and he cut a national profile as a strong proponent of gun control. He has studied up on international policy as a member of the Foreign Relations Committee. And Murphy has become one of President Donald Trump’s fiercest critics in Congress — a safe posture in a state Hillary carried last year by almost 14 points.

It wouldn’t surprise me at all if Murphy has his eyes on the White House. He’s ambitious, smart, a savvy user of social media, and is on MSNBC’s short list anytime producers want a Democratic guest fluent in anti-Trumpese.

But if he wants to launch a serious bid for the White House, Murphy needs to get some experience actually running something larger than a Senate office. He really ought to run for governor. But he will be up for re-election to the Senate next year, the same year as the next gubernatorial election. So assuming Malloy doesn’t run for re-election, Murphy would have to risk a seat in the most exclusive club in the nation to get a shot at 990 Prospect Avenue. No way he’ll do that. Look for him to stay in the Senate until a future Democratic presidential nominee scoops him up as a running mate.

Contributing op-ed columnist Terry Cowgill lives in Lakeville, blogs at ctdevilsadvocate.com and is news editor of The Berkshire Record in Great Barrington, Mass. Follow him on Twitter @terrycowgill.

DISCLAIMER: The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of CTNewsJunkie.com.

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