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Of Laws, Lobbying & Legislative Change (Rant Part 3)

Our Texas craft beer market is (relatively) new and (comparatively) wide open, but that is changing.  Nearly every week there is an announcement regarding a new brewery opening somewhere in the state or an out-of-state brewery looking to begin distribution within our borders.  The laws in Texas that relate to beer need to change.  Three bills introduced in the latest legislative session all died, and I’m frankly really pissed off about it.

Something Rotten in Austin

The battle to change these laws is beginning to build up steam, but hasn’t grabbed the larger public eye and certainly hasn’t been something the Texas Legislature seems to give a damn about.  This is certainly not the first blog or article to address this issue, and I very much doubt it will be the last.  But there seems to more afoot here than perhaps meets the eye.

The only groups in the three-tiered system that seem to have any sway are the large, national breweries and national distributors lobby.  We used to believe that it was only the large distributors in Texas – and they certainly still retain an extremely powerful lobby in Austin and DC – but now, it seems that all A-B InBev has to do is send a representative to Austin and our elected State Reps and Senators kiss the ring and fall back in line.  Missouri is running the show in Texas.

It Gets Worse

The National Beer Wholesalers of America – the national beer distribution lobby is apparently tired of having to continually fight to control each state’s beer market.  I guess controlling 90% of the beer market is not enough, because they have begun to take aim at our Constitutional rights to the Commerce Clause.  To forestall any arguments that this bill won’t pass – I don’t care.  This type of legislation is simply disgusting and intolerable. 

If you haven’t heard, NBWA has a group of puppet US Congressmen/women who introduced a bill that was drafted by the NBWA.  This bill seeks to stop direct shipments of alcohol — essentially direct wine sales, wine clubs and beer clubs, and kill any potential in the future for breweries to be allowed to ship beer directly to a consumer. 

However, on top of this, the NBWA is seeking to restrict the public’s ability to take issue with unconstitutional alcohol laws in our court systems.  If this bill passes into law, and an anti-small brewery law is passed, but unconstitutional, no one would be allowed to challenge it in court essentially denying our rights to throw out these laws without legislative intervention (which we already know is dictated by big beer anyway).

Here is an image from www.opencongress.org regarding who is in favor vs. who isn’t. (you can click to enlarge it)  Pretty startling, huh?

 

If that isn’t enough to drop your jaw, take a gander at the groups inflammatory website:  www.thecareact.org.  It’s one step away from communist propaganda. Though this group cloaks the argument in state’s rights, this isn’t a state’s right issue – this is a blatant power grab by an already powerful lobby to tighten its kung-fu grip on our abilities to change beer laws in our state.  Take note of the bottom left — who “powers” this website. (click to enlarge it)

 

And finally, take a look at these blog entries; they are good reading for an angry afternoon.   

From the Dr. Vino website.

From Beverage World.  

And Free The Grapes

Many other groups have brought this issue to light including forums on Beer Advocate; there is even a Facebook page entitled Stop HR 1161 

Pulling Together

Everyone is tired of losing this battle.  And tempers and patience are the hot and short.  We craft beer geeks in Texas love our craft beer breweries/brewpubs, but, by the end of this latest Texas legislative session, they aren’t all necessarily happy with each other.  From an outsider’s prospective, it would seem that our brewery/brewpub folks would stand a better chance if they could pull together and attack the problem as a block rather than piecemeal.  However, I know that pulling together all of the various brewery and brewpub personalities and objectives is probably a daunting undertaking. The reasons behind this aren’t for me to discuss, but perhaps there is something the rest of us can do.

Taking it to The Man

We have two years to get prepared.  We have two years to get a game plan in place that will get us results.  And by “us,” I mean the craft beer consumer.  Here’s what I would like to see organized in advance of the next meeting of our Texas Legislature.  By beer geeks, for beer geeks:

  1. Un-elect Those Not With Us:  who the heck are these TX legislative people? I’d like to find out exactly how these people feel about craft beer in Texas.  If they don’t feel as we feel, let’s start by getting them tossed out.  Take it to The Man.
  2. Shame Those On the Fence:  since politicians aren’t exactly known for their forthrightness and honesty, let’s ensure their support with ads and active campaigns in their hometowns.  It’s easy to lie to someone who isn’t your neighbor.  It’s hard to go to church and look at someone you stabbed in the back.  Shame, and fear of shame, are pretty good motivators. Again, Take it to The Man.
  3. Commission a Study:  let’s get some better numbers behind what we all believe is the truth – that more small breweries/brewpubs = more jobs/income to Texas. I know these things aren’t cheap, so . . . .
  4. Let’s Start our own PAC:  If InBev and NBWA can lobby, so, too, can beer geeks.  Let’s start our own lobbying group and Take it to The Man.

I’m tired of letting these yahoos in Austin dictate beer law, especially now when it is now crystal clear that Austin only cares about huge, international corporations and lobbyists, and not their Texas citizens.  Let’s embrace the legal models set by others around the country – California, Oregon, and Washington.  Texas should have as robust a beer market as any of the states mentioned above.  If craft beer enthusiasts remain isolated from each other, we remain weak; if we band together in furtherance of a common goal – I believe we can achieve real, meaningful change. 

A similar group was started in Mississippi called Raise Your Pints, I’d like to see something similar in Texas.

Change Not Limited to Big Beer

I know distributors are afraid of the growth of craft beer.  We all know this because of what we witness each legislative session – bills are presented and quietly, but effectively, killed in committee or on the floor by one very powerful lobbyist (and Mike, we know who you are).  Well, distributors should embrace craft beer’s growth. 

My feeling is this:  first, craft beer is a higher priced product than “big beer.” I believe distributors stand to gain higher profits from selling craft beer brands than they might with “big beer” as they have seen profits and market share fall.  Plus, craft beer sales open an entirely different demographic to their coffers.  I also believe craft beer will steal a portion of its following from wine drinkers because that demographic looks for quality over quantity at the lowest cost.  And if you are about to post a comment that states otherwise, please don’t bother, you won’t persuade me.

Second, and perhaps more insidious, if the NBWA and “big beer” continue to strive to maintain a stranglehold on national and local markets, and bar change and growth in the craft beer arena, I believe we will see a backlash grow within the consumer market to do away with the three-tier system in its entirety.  And that would see the complete dismantling of the distribution chain nationwide, which would certainly usher in a host of unintended consequences.  Texas is not the only state chafing against the outdated chains of the current incantation of the three-tiered system.  Sooner or later, consumers will band together.  Sooner or later, change will happen.  Those changes can be smooth and slow, or drastic and cataclysmic – those of us who drink craft beer don’t really give a damn how it happens, just that it does.

Final Call to Action

I would like to see beer geeks band together in Texas – from Denton to Brownsville, from El Paso to Beaumont.  If you consider yourself a beer geek, or even just a person who loves a righteous fight, join with me and let’s Take It To The Man.


1 Comments Add Yours ↓

  1. Jess G. Totten #
    1

    Cool, great rant. There’s been some talk amongst the Foam Rangers (Houston Homebrew Association) about why the bill failed and what can be done better next time. I will be sending them a link to this post forthwith.

    First thing, as you point out: organize, organize, organize. All of us pulling together are much stronger than any of us alone. Power to the craft brew drinkers!



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