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From the Archives: State Senator Ralph Smith 'keeping his powder dry' on ABC privatization proposals

State Senator Ralph Smith 'keeping his powder dry' on ABC privatization proposals
August 9, 2010 2:25 AM MST

Ralph Smith ABC privatization liquor law alcohol regulation Prohibition
Governor Bob McDonnell’s first town hall meeting on government reform was held in the chambers of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors, in the backyard of state Senator Ralph Smith (R-22), a former mayor of Roanoke whose district encompasses all of Botetourt County, parts of Montgomery and Roanoke counties, and the cities of Radford and Salem. (The city of Roanoke is represented in the state senate by Democrat John Edwards.)

Smith introduced McDonnell at the start of the meeting. After the event ended, he spent a few minutes answering questions from the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner.

Smith’s assessment of the town hall was positive.

Learning from the public
“I think we all learned by it,” he said. “I feel sure the Governor’s learned new angles by this. I certainly did.”

The senator was particularly impressed by the way Governor McDonnell handled difficult – if not hostile – questions from the audience.

On occasions like this, he said, “no one’s going to like everything you do.” McDonnell “did an excellent job of dealing with those issues which are pretty much in opposition from the direction he wants to go.” For that, Smith concluded, “he gets good credit.”

With regard to the specific question of McDonnell’s proposals for privatization of the sales and distribution of distilled spirits, Smith put on a positive face but was nonetheless noncommittal.

Wait and see on ABC
“I’m like probably a majority of the members of the General Assembly,” he explained, who want to “see more detail and expect to learn a little bit more in the next couple of days.”

Smith said of himself that “I’m a private-enterprise guy, so that kicks in, but I also realize that this is not a product like shoes and razor blades and everything else, when you’re dealing with alcohol,” suggesting that alcohol sales should be treated differently under the law than other consumer products.

Asked if he has a sense of what the General Assembly is thinking, Smith replied:

“Most everyone’s keeping their powder dry,” but he added that the opposition party – the Democrats, who have a majority in the state Senate – are unlikely to be supportive.

Still, Smith does not think support or opposition to these proposals will be driven entirely by partisanship.

“It’ll be back and forth,” he said, although “I think the partisanship will handicap it, somewhat.”

Rural-suburban split
What’s more likely is a rural-suburban split among legislators, depending on the constituencies they represent.

“You’re going to see some of that, clearly, yes,” he noted, pointing out that “Southwest Virginia is going to be the most conservative part of it.”

On the other hand, he said, “there are pockets around the Commonwealth,” which he identified as “the heavily populated areas, without naming the specifics,” where the transition will be welcomed by those who have seen free-market sales in other parts of the country.

At the same time, he expressed some concern that those other states serve as examples of where they “have one [liquor store] essentially on every corner.” In his own visits to other states he has seen “gaudiness” and thinks those stores are “pretty tacky visually.”

Still, he added, “I can’t imagine that it doesn’t encourage more alcohol consumption,” an assertion contradicted by studies such as one released last week by the Virginia Institute of Public Policy, and by some of the research done by economist Antony Davies, who was interviewed by the Charlottesville Libertarian Examiner last Thursday.

Publisher's note: This article was originally published on on August 9, 2010. The publishing platform was discontinued July 1, 2016, and its web site went dark on or about July 10, 2016.  I am republishing this piece in an effort to preserve it and all my other contributions to since April 6, 2010. It is reposted here without most of the internal links that were in the original.

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