Has the Tea Party advocacy of an unfettered free market economy creeped into Utahns’ minds? Or are they just a little drunk?
A new Dan Jones & Associates poll finds that 58 percent of registered voters believe the state should not control the sale of liquor, while 37 percent say Utah government should keep control of liquor sales.
These are shocking numbers. One would think that most Utahns would agree with leaders of the LDS Church and others that liquor, it’s sales and consumption, should be carefully controlled – as much as possible – by the government.
No doubt some of the free-market expression comes because of a genuine graft scandal that is still unfolding within the Utah Department of Alcohol Beverage Control.
The truth is, such problems – apparent rigging of department contracts and mismanagement of funds – could happen in any federal, state or local government agency.
This incident just happened in the state liquor agency – adding perhaps some titillation to a scandal that really had nothing to do with liquor itself.
There’s little doubt that the 2012 Legislature, which starts Monday, will deal with alcohol control governance.
The citizen liquor control board knew nothing about the former agency director and others apparently guiding non-liquor supply contracts to a firm run by the director’s son.
So the asleep-at-the-wheel board may be taken out of daily oversight of the agency’s operations, with an agency director reporting directly to the governor or the agency being folding into another state department.
Or lawmakers could increase the availability of so-called package agencies, and allow grocery stores or some other private retail outlets to sell liquor out of designated (no kids allowed) areas.
But one can rest assured that the Legislature will not just get the state out of the liquor business – as 58 percent of Utahns favor in the lasted poll.
The survey was conducted for Prosperity 2020, the Exoro Group and UtahPolicy Daily. Jones spoke with 519 registered voters statewide, with a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.
LDS Church leaders, by and large, don’t take many stands that may fall into specific legislative/political arenas. But liquor is one of the exceptions.
Frankly put, Utah lawmakers (80 percent of which are faithful Mormons, many of whom have held official lay leadership positions in their church) don’t do anything about liquor control without the tacit approval of church leaders.
(LDS Church leaders rarely, if ever, endorse a liquor control change, they just remain mute on the topic, legislators take that as a go ahead, and the issues live or die on their merits.)
Still, considering that church leaders take a great interest in liquor control in Utah, it’s surprising that so many Utahns believe getting alcohol out of state distribution is the right thing to do.
Jones found that even Republicans, in Utah a rather conservative lot, favor a free market approach to booze sales – 50 percent of the GOP say no state control, 44 percent like the government controlling and selling liquor, which 6 percent don’t know.
Those liberal Democrats – who may be more likely to take a drink now and then – have little doubts about liquor. Seventy-nine percent say let the free market deal with liquor sales, only 20 percent want the state to control it.
Political independents favor the state getting out of liquor – 61 percent say go with the free market, 35 percent say keep state control.
Not a surprise, most members of the LDS faith stick with their leaders. But still, only 49 percent of Mormons say the state should control liquor, 45 percent say open it up to the free market.
Rumors coming from Capitol Hill concerning liquor are also interesting. Some of the conservative members of the House say the state should not be in the business of selling any product that the private sector could handle just as well, if not better.
Over the years I’ve heard more than one Republican rise in floor debate to say that the state shouldn’t be in the booze business because it is basically a dirty business – at least morally.
Others argue that liquor is a commodity, like cars or fruit, and the state shouldn’t be cornering the market and controlling any commodity that the private sector can handle.
Don’t look to any major changes in liquor control, either in the 2012 Legislature or future sessions any time soon.
In a related issue, before each general session of the Legislature, leaders of the LDS Church invite the political leadership of both the House and Senate to come down and speak with the church’s special affairs committee.
House and Senate Democratic leaders tell me that such a meeting was scheduled, but then cancelled by the church.
GOP leaders told me they are unaware of the church ever asking for such a meeting this year.
Read what you will into this. It could simply be a situation where special affairs members couldn’t work out their schedules with busy lawmakers (the Democrats and Republicans have separate luncheons with the affairs committee).
Or considering some of the really hot topics starting over the next 45 days of the 2012 session, church leaders may have decided to hold off on any involvement.
For example, there will be an effort to repeal HB116, the illegal immigrant guest worker law. Church leaders endorsed that law last year.
And there could be efforts on loosening liquor control, as well, something church leaders would likely wish to weigh in on.
If we hear anything at all from 50 E. South Temple (the old church administration building), it may come at specific times on specific bills.
Like always, we’ll all wait and see what the general session brings.