Politics and pints: something to Chatter about
The David Koch founded and funded Americans for Prosperity has kept Joe the Plumber’s 15 minutes of fame going for years by paying him to show up at conservative re-education mini-camps sometimes dubbed “Politics and Pints” — (even though his name isn’t Joe and he isn’t a plumber.) It doesn’t hurt to be inebriated as you evaluate some of the philosophical gymnastics required to assist people like the Kochs with their extreme right wing agenda, if you aren’t a gazillionaire, but alcohol and politics have always made a potent combination.
Politics and pints have taken on a new meaning in Wisconsin as the Tavern League of Wisconsin joined MillerCoors to promote an item in the state budget that will potentially stifle the growth of Wisconsin’s craft beer industry. It has to do with the distribution by small volume brewers and it was ostensibly done to keep Anheuser-Busch from buying up distributors and giving their product an unfair advantage.
Until the recent state budget was signed, Wisconsin was definitely “open for business” for small brewers. Although the overall beer market in the U.S. declined by one percent in 2010, it was up 12 percent for craft brewers and it’s not their first year of double-digit growth. Wisconsin has around 60 of these microbrewers and their growing market share in the state is now around five percent. The problem for the megabrands is pretty simple: they serve up a lot of comparative junk. It may be less filling, but really doesn’t taste great and more people have been figuring it out — just like comparing thin Folger’s in the church basement to a rich Starbucks will change your view of coffee.
With the repeal of Prohibition, a Holy Trinity was set up that dictated alcohol beverages must follow a specified path from the brewer to your lips. The proposal supported by MillerCoors, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association, lobbyists for grocers and convenience stores and (of course) the Tavern League, combines the brewer’s permit and wholesale and retail licenses given out by municipalities into one permit under state control. It bans brewers from purchasing distributors — something craft brewers say they might need later to avoid getting squeezed out of the market by large corporate brewers.
Like a lot of bad policy over the years, this Miller-Coors backed crapola was tacked on to the Wisconsin state budget bill, passed by the Republican legislature and duly signed by Governor Walker. (Wisconsin is open for business, except for trains, craft brewers, alternative energy and whoever else makes the list in coming months. Multi-national, foreign-owners brewers? You’re okay. See you at the fundraiser, okay?)
“Everything in this bill is designed to make it harder for small craft brewers to grow,” says Deb Carey, a co-owner of New Glarus Brewing and a member of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild that opposes Walker’s provision in a Cap Times piece that ran in June. “It is a slimy piece of legislation.”
The truth of the matter is that the Tavern League may support their customers’ rights when it suits them, but it’s always about their own interests and not necessarily those of their customers. This isn’t the first time they’ve supported anti-competitive legislation, either. In the late 1990s, the Tavern League successfully backed legislation to force municipalities to cut the number of liquor licenses they issued and charge $10,000 for the reserve licenses that remained. That puts them right in the same camp with Walker when it comes to issues like local control. (While many municipalities passed ordinances that effectively provided a workaround through a corresponding “economic development grant” for new license applicants, I tried unsuccessfully for years to get Wausau to pass such a measure.)
For an entertaining little take on what’s going on across the country, here’s a movie trailer for “Beer Wars” that will give you a rich, malty taste with hints of fermented barley and hops:
Great Dane and Vintage Brewing Company in Madison discontinued sales of MillerCoors in June to protest their legislative effort and now, a Wausau tavern – Chatterbox – has responded by ending sales of Wisconsin-owned and brewed New Glarus products.
“The Tavern League of Wisconsin leads the battle every day to protect your rights as a consumer of alcoholic beverages. It is our feeling that any organization that attacks and not applauds these efforts should not be supported,” says Chatterbox on their Facebook page.
Actually, the Tavern League was supporting a provision to prohibit brewers from operating pubs and restaurants – and no, I don’t applaud them for it. I like the Chatterbox and was happy to support their expansion a few years back. Now, I think they should support helping other Wisconsin small businesses to expand and I think they are exactly wrong to stand with MillerCoors and the Tavern League on this one. It makes about as much sense as Joe the Plumber standing with David Koch.
Seven Wisconsin legislators requested a veto by Walker on the craft brewing provision to no avail. Folks should be very wary about legislation when you have lawmakers as disparate in their views as Republican Senators Glenn Grothman and Pam Galloway agreeing with Democratic Senator Bob Jauch, along with Assembly Representatives Brett Hulsey (D-Madison) and Evan Wynn (R-Whitewater.) This is a bad deal. (Of course, it would have been nice and a lot more powerful a statement if the Republican senators would have come out before the budget was passed to demand that the provision be removed, but that didn’t happen.)
“Small businesses are the leaders of Wisconsin’s economic recovery, and micro-breweries are no different. They employ many Wisconsinites directly, and many more through their purchase of quality Wisconsin ingredients. Wisconsin should be moving in a business-friendly direction and not legislating more needless government regulation, ” said Rep. Wynn.
That sounds about right to me. And instead of standing with the Tavern League, Chatterbox would be better off standing with their customers – whether they want a Bud Lite or a Spotted Cow.
UPDATE: 2011 Entrepreneur of the Year says Walker is destroying small breweries and their jobs in Wisconsin: