Enough is Enough: It’s Time for Virginia to Get Out of the Liquor Business


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    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 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 greater free enterprise stood in the Governor’s way and against their own purported principles.

    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 Charlottesville on 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 late at night in 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.

    Best-selling author and historian Coy Barefoot is the host of Inside Charlottesville.


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