Monday, October 14, 2013

Gubernatorial Candidates Weigh in on Alcoholic Beverage Laws and Regulations

Two of the three candidates for Virginia governor in 2013 have addressed questions concerning the state's alcoholic beverage laws, with special scrutiny on the Alcoholic Beverage Control board (ABC) and the scope of its authority.

Ken Cuccinelli in Charlottesville on May 20, 2013
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli characterized as “overkill” an ABC sting operation in Charlottesville that resulted in a University of Virginia coed spending a night in jail and being charged with three felonies.

Cuccinelli, who is also the 2013 Republican nominee for governor, made his remarks during a July 3 interview with radio host Coy Barefoot on WCHV-FM in Charlottesville.

The April 11 incident has received national attention since the charges against Elizabeth Daly were dropped by Charlottesville Commonwealth's Attorney Dave Chapman on June 27. circulated a petition demanding that the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control apologize to Daly and her two companions and to discipline the officers involved.

Late in the evening of April 11, Daly and two friends purchased cookie dough, ice cream, and canned sparkling water at the Harris Teeter store in Barracks Road Shopping Center. A group of six ABC agents, mistaking the water for beer, approached them.

The women did not recognize the agents as law enforcement personnel, called 911 to report their fears, panicked, and drove away. Daly was subsequently charged with striking two of the agents with her car and evading arrest, charges that brought with them the threat of up to 15 years in prison.

Well-placed concern
“I think your concern for overkill is well-placed,” Cuccinelli told Barefoot. “Mind you, I have not spoken to the agency about this,” he explained, so his knowledge of the situation has been based upon press reports.

However, Cuccinelli added, “these folks have a job to do, but do you really need a half dozen of them. Let's say this was hard liquor” that Daly allegedly bought. “So what?”

Based on the descriptions he had seen, the Attorney General said, “it seems to me that frankly – even if she bought beer or something – she got more than enough punishment in jail.”

Cuccinelli said, putting himself in the shoes of the women that night, “if I see a bunch of men surrounding me, that's going to instill a lot of fear in me.”

'Extreme measures'

Noting that, as an undergraduate at UVA, he had helped start a sexual assault prevention group on campus, Cuccinelli explained that he is “glad it didn't turn out worse than it did. It would have turned out worse for the agents. If I'm defending myself and I'm in my car, and I'm a young woman worried about sexual assault, I'm going to use extreme measures to keep myself safe.”

Why, he asked, “do we have six ABC agents staking out one store? It doesn't seem particularly wise.   You end up with confrontations like this that could turn out a lot worse.”

Asked by Barefoot if he would teach his daughters to behave with the same sort of caution that Daly and her companions displayed that night, Cuccinelli exclaimed: “Absoflippinlutely!

“I would never suggest to my daughters that they just trust what they've been told,” by people who might or might not be law enforcement officers. Those women, he said, “did exactly the right thing” by calling 911 and attempting to drive to the nearest police station.

“The important thing for us on the law enforcement side is we need to learn from this,” Cuccinelli said. “We need to be more concerned about the perspective of the person on the street.”

He pointed out that “the average person buying alcohol, even if they're buying it illegally, do not have the idea of escalating [the act] violently to complete the crime.”

Cuccinelli expressed confidence that higher-level officials at the ABC has “had some serious conversations with [the agents] about their tactics.”

Looking forward, the gubernatorial candidate concluded, “what the rest of us need to do is [to ensure] the likelihood of this ever happening again gets as close to zero as we can make it.”

In an interview with me at a campaign stop in Richmond, Libertarian Party gubernatorial nominee Robert Sarvis expressed his own views on Virginia's liquor laws.

Robert Sarvis in Charlottesville on August 5, 2013
When current Governor Bob McDonnell took office in 2010, the first major proposal that made was to privatize the wholesale and retail sales operations that put Virginia in the liquor business. “Privatizing the ABC” was a rallying cry for the McDonnell administration through the summer and fall of 2010, but when the General Assembly considered his proposals during its 2011 session, it rejected them.

“ABC privatization is just a no-brainer for a lot of reasons,” Sarvis said. “That's something that I'm going to press for.”

Sarvis's “approach to liquor laws should be part of a greater push for reform of drug laws,” he added. “We should rationalize our laws in both areas so that we're not having government try [to] do everything and micromanage our lives.”

How could Sarvis succeed where McDonnell failed?

“I'm uniquely positioned to work with people in both parties on issues that would just be non-starters if you have a major-party governor,” he said. “The opposing party in the legislature is going to be obstructionist but” Sarvis believes he can work with the General Assembly “on that and many other issues.”

Success, he said, depends on “not just ramming through what I want” but “it's giving voice to the people” that matters.

'Freedom creates responsibility'
“We should enable people,” he explained, “to engage in activities they want to and be responsible. Freedom creates responsibility just as responsible citizens appreciate freedom. You can't have one without the other.”

The government monopoly on liquor sales in Virginia, Sarvis said, is “partly a nanny-state thing and partly a government-control issue. The government is afraid of relinquishing control over that – it's a moneymaker – [but] we should not be having the government run industries for the purpose of raising money” to add to state coffers.

On a related matter, Sarvis said he is “certainly open to” returning Virginia's minimum legal drinking age to 18.

“Our prohibitionist mentality and treating people like children oftentimes creates the problems that we think are being addressed by the laws that we've created,” and that includes drinking-age laws, he said.

In considering changing the drinking-age laws, Sarvis said, “I'm really pushing for respecting people's freedom and responsibility.”

Sarvis also addressed ABC issues at a press conference in Charlottesville on August 5.

The candidate spoke outside the ABC store located in the Barracks Road Shopping Center, the place where Elizabeth Daly and her companions were ambushed by ABC agents on the night of April 11.

(This article is adapted from two previously published pieces on

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