For some odd reason, I find myself often fascinated with Massachusetts politics above those of my own New Hampshire. It’s a great opportunity for me to express a purely theoretical form of politics: I have absolutely no stake in matters, but I can readily get all sorts of information about them.
This year, there is a ballot question in the Bay State that would allow grocery stores to sell wine. It’s currently prohibited, and the fight over changing the law is quite heated — and remarkably educational. And as (for various and sundry personal and medical reasons) I am a strict teetotaler, never having been more than slightly buzzed in my life, it’s even more hypothetical for me.
The backers of the measure — largely the grocery stores — say that it’s a matter of consumer choice and convenience. They say that it would not grant any new liquor licenses, but merely allow local communities the option of granting them to supermarkets that meet certain criteria and apply for them.
The opponents — largely current owners of liquor stores — say that it would start a “slippery slope” that would eventually lead to wine and beer being sold at any convenience store or mini-mart. It would pretty much double the number of liquor licenses in the state. It would make alcohol more accessible to minors, and lead to carnage on the highways.
My first thought is that the opponents have a point. There isn’t a “slippery slope” when it comes to laws in Massachusetts. The “slope” is a ninety-degree cliff covered in axle grease. To say about Massachusetts lawmakers that “if you give them an inch, they’ll take a light-year” would be an understatement. Their long-term contempt of the will of the people is firmly established.
That being said, I find myself sympathizing with the backers of the measure. Currently, the owners of liquor stores hold a state-established monopoly, and as a general principle I don’t care for that. As a rule, I tend to back increased competition and consumer choice.
The final nail in the coffin, though, has to be the tactics used by the opponents. They have twice been caught violating state law in their actions. They had a police chief, in uniform and sitting in his office, film a commercial opposing it. They also had two of the three members of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Council make official statements on behalf of the ABCC against it. In both cases, the law prohibits public officials from using their offices to take political stands.
They are also having as one of their spokesman the grandfather of a young girl killed by a drunk driver. Ron Versani, the driving force behind Melanies Law, which heavily ratcheted up the penalties for drunk driving, is all over the airwaves denouncing the measure.
The odd thing is that in over 30 states, such liquor sales are already allowed. Here in Manchester, New Hampshire, I can walk less than three blocks to a Cumberland Farms and buy beer and wine to my heart’s content. But the drunk-driving rates are not notably higher in states like mine that allow smaller stores to sell alcohol.
On Tuesday, the people of Massachusetts will go to the polls and decide whether or not to allow supermarkets to sell wine. The way they vote will not matter to me one whit. But it will be a telling indicator on whether or not the state will continue its trend of having the State protect them from themselves, or whether or not the people feel they can trust themselves not to be complete, self-destructive idiots.
After all, this is the state that keeps re-electing Ted Kennedy and John Kerry to the Senate.