Home Virginia Politics Paul Goldman: Put McDonnell’s ABC Privatization Plan to a Referendum

Paul Goldman: Put McDonnell’s ABC Privatization Plan to a Referendum


Thanks to Paul Goldman for the following guest column. I agree with him; let’s put the idea of privatizing ABC stores to the voters. {UPDATE: Paul suggests a subtitle for this article — “How Dems Win in 2013.”}

If you would like to see a Democrat get back in the Governor’s Mansion in 2013, read further. If not, then read further but keep your blood pressure pills — better yet a 911 medical alert button — handy.

Truth is, the ABC’s of getting back the Governor’s Mansion in 2013 were laid out for Democrats by Delegate Bob McDonnell in 1996 as part of House Joint Resolution 170. Some 14 years later, Governor Bob McDonnell has spent all of 2010 trying his best, in the name of the state’s ABC system, reminding Democrats about what he said in 1996. But being good Virginia gentlemen, House Democratic Minority Leader Ward Armstrong and Senate Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw have been politely refusing, their members going along in that Virginia way.

How quaint. Yet like the energizer bunny, His Excellency refuses to allow Democrats to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

lots more after the “flip”

So once again he will offer up the keys this September 8th. On this date, the same day unelected President Jerry Ford pardoned un-indicted Watergate co-conspirator Richard Nixon, the Governor will release the fateful details to a long-promised proposal to sell hard liquor the McDonnell way.  According to his aides, the proposal will replace the state’s roughly 300 state-run ABC stores with 800-1200 private owned retail shops serviced by a newly “privatized” wholesale distribution scheme based on a state-mandated Oligopoly for the great financial benefit of a handful of well-connected political players including some FOB’s, friends of Governor Bob.

The Governor says his plan is what the people want and it enjoys strong support from Virginian families. But he offers no proof and for good reason: The Governor, and his sidekick Lt. Governor Bolling, along with the GOP establishment, would be soundly rejected if they did what Mr. McDonnell wanted to do in 1996, allow the people of Virginia to have a direct say in a statewide referendum on the matter.

Ironically, of all the issues in state politics today, the one that has the longest history of statewide referenda is the sale of liquor in the Commonwealth. Ever since 1913, when gubernatorial candidate Henry Stuart pledged not to change the state’s liquor policy without first giving Virginians a direct say through an advisory referendum, every Governor, Republican or Democrat, has kept this covenant with the voters.

That a socially conservative Republican Governor, on record for expanding the reach of this covenant, would flip-flop on the liquor referendum issue is rather surprising. In 1996, he didn’t think the current advisory referendum law went far enough: he wanted to give voters who didn’t like his ABC plan the right to repeal it by direct vote, after they had collected enough signatures to get it on the referendum ballot. Still his “I was for it until I was against” flip-flop is not nearly as astounding as the refusal of Virginia Democratic leaders to realize Mr. McDonnell has committed the most basic mistake any Republican can make: he has allowed his right flank to become completely exposed. This is mind-boggling given what is now taking place in GOP primaries around the country. .

Which is why Boyd Marcus, the super-GOP strategist and guru for Lt. Governor Bill Bolling, has reason to believe God may be a Republican — for what other explanation could there be for the continuing failure of Virginia Democratic leaders to miss an unprecedented opportunity not likely to come again in state politics?  Boyd, and his very able partner Ray Allen, have crushed any number of Republicans in intra-party fights for being insufficiently conservative with far less than 200% proof, indeed without a drop of evidence in some cases! They know what is out there if Democrats would, as Robert Frost advised, “take the road not taken.”

First, the rural social conservative base of the Republican Party cannot support the McDonnell plan because it is based in good measure on a scheme to significantly increase hard liquor sales in Virginia, not to mention reduce service, raise prices and cost good jobs in their areas. When you triple the number of stores selling hard liquor, sales of the stuff are going up; that’s one reason the Governor is claiming he can get a $300-$800 million dollar one-time windfall from private sector interests eager to one of those new, protected licenses!

I ask you: When is the last time, or the next time, the rural conservative base of the GOP is going to hook-up with the urban Democratic base on a statewide issue? Yes, that’s right: Democrats understand that for the McDonnell plan to work, it has to target inner city areas with the lure of “new businesses” – as in a liquor store on every corner – and “new jobs” as in clerks pushing for more sales.

From the liberal editorial pages of the Washington Post, who know the McDonnell ABC plan to help “fix transportation” amounts to at best selling a great state asset for roughly 2 1/2 months of next year’s road maintenance budget, to the conservative weeklies across the state printing columns by religious leaders, there will be an alliance like no other, including law enforcement officials, small business owners, youth counselors, mental health advocates, medical doctors, and suburban families with young adults who know the social cost, not to mention the economic toil, from McDonnell’s risky-whiskey social experiment.

On the side of the Governor will be his hand-picked successor Mr. Bolling, along with the GOP establishment, their “Vote Yes” campaigned funded by Walmart and national liquor interests.

Who do you think wins? Which side to you think Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the leader of the GOP’s all-powerful social conservatives will be on?

But you say: “Okay Paul, if you are right, then McDonnell will never agree to a referendum.”

My response: But if the Democrats make it a pre-requisite, as has always previously been the case, for any hope of passage in the Senate, what choice does a Governor, on record since 1996 as believing such a referendum should be the right of the people, have?

True, he could say No, tell the public he doesn’t trust them or much care what they say. But if he truly believes, as he says, his plan is that good for Virginia, then how can he justify not having a referendum?

However, if he refuses, then he has effectively killed his own plan, after a year of hype.

If that doesn’t destroy his credibility, along with Mr. Bolling, et. al, then what does? Moreover, he will need the House of Delegates to tell the people that they, too, don’t much care what their constituents think.

Right now, Senate Democrats want to take it upon themselves to be seen as killing the bill if need be at a short Special Session. This gives McDonnell maximum ability to spin the outcome in his favor, blaming Democrats for being pro-government, anti-business, pro-tax and anti-transportation. Sure, Democrats get to have their own counter-headline, but in the end, it is still the typical He Said, She Said yada, yada, yada.

It could wind-up a win for McDonnell depending on the spin.

Instead, Democrats should take the pro-people side, and force the Governor and his party to choose. If McDonnell, Bolling, et. al are afraid to trust the people, then make sure as many Virginians as possible know it.


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