Monday, August 30, 2010

Ahead of the Curve

Forgive the preening, but sometimes bloggers can be ahead of the curve in covering an important story.

In this particular case, my prescience was not displayed on my blog (what you're reading now) but on my page.

Sunday's Washington Post featured a long article by Rosalind S. Helderman headlined "Virginia ponders losing ABC stores; studies conflict on privatizing liquor sales," in which she cites a study conducted by Duquesne University economist Antony Davies:

A much broader study in Pennsylvania examined 36 years of data from 48 states with varying degrees of alcohol control. It found that private states have lower per-capita alcohol consumption and lower drunken-driving fatalities than states where government controls segments of the industry. It found no significant difference in underage drinking between the two models.

Like the recent Virginia report, it was funded by a foundation that advocates smaller government. But its author has submitted the findings to an academic journal for review, and he defended the results as unbiased.

"The fact is, we can play that game, who gets funded by whom," said Antony Davies, the Duquesne University economist who wrote the report.

"What happens is, we all have to go home, and nobody asks any questions at all. Everybody gets funded by someone," he said. "The better thing to do is to give researchers the benefit of the doubt that they're trying to find truth, and then look at the data and the studies."
Please note that, before the Post ever wrote about Antony Davies, I interviewed him for, and actually quoted him on the substance of his research, rather than about the game critics play about "who gets funded by whom."

Here's an excerpt from that August 5 interview, which I titled "Economist Antony Davies debunks arguments against liquor sale privatization":
A 2009 study he wrote for the Commonwealth Foundation for Public Policy Alternatives (a Pennsylvania think tank) with fellow Duquesne economist John Pulito, resulted in these findings, based on statistics from 1970 through 2006:

“….advocates claim that the social goals of reducing alcohol consumption, underage drinking, and alcohol-related traffic deaths justify controlling wholesale and retail alcohol markets.

“Evidence from 48 states over time shows no link between market controls and these social goals.”

Dr. Davies said in the interview that “we’re not seeing any evidence that greater control leads to better social outcomes.”

There is an exception, however, that Davies pointed out over the telephone: “DUI fatalities are significantly higher in states with more control than states with less control.”

Other factors, however, are different, he said. “If you look at per capita alcohol consumption, there’s no difference as you move from full to moderate to light control.”

Underage Drinking
As to claims that state-owned liquor stores are a better protection against selling alcohol to minors and underage drinking, Davies explained that people think “at a gut level” that private businesses “have an incentive to sell to minors. We see that’s not the case.”

Why not? “If alcohol is sold in the private market, the owner of the store has a profit incentive not to sell to minors, because if he gets caught, he loses his license. He wants to protect his business.”

Davies, who is also a visiting scholar at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University in Northern Virginia, concludes: “If you look at the data, there’s no clear pattern [that emerges showing] that imposing more control reduces underage drinking.”
Note, too, that I specifically name the Commonwealth Foundation while the Post refers to it vaguely as "a foundation that advocates smaller government" (as if that's a bad thing).

Helderman deserves credit for seeking out a free-market economist like Dr. Davies for her story.  But you heard about him from me first -- just like Governor Bob McDonnell telling me that the Post got it wrong in reporting that he was leaning toward selling the ABC system to a single high bidder.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

Scoop: Private Liquor Monopoly Is 'Not Going to Happen'

Disturbed by reports in the Washington Post and repeated by Josh Eboch on the Tertium Quids blog that Governor Bob McDonnell's plan to privatize the state-owned liquor monopoly could include selling the whole system to a single high bidder, I decided to find out for myself if this was true.

First, here is what Anita Kumar said in the Post:

McDonnell is leaning toward auctioning off an undetermined number of licenses to the highest bidder.
Governor McDonnell held the sixth of his eight planned town-hall meetings on government reform last night in Harrisonburg, on the campus of James Madison University. Afterwards, he took questions from reporters and I fired off the first one.

This is a complete transcript of our exchange:
Q: I’ll ask you a question. The Washington Post reported yesterday or the day before that the ABC privatization could include selling the whole kit and caboodle to one high bidder. Is that off the table?

A: Absolutely. We’re not going create a private monopoly to replace a government monopoly. That’s not going to happen.

Q: So the Washington Post was wrong?

A: I didn’t read that, and so I’ve never heard that.
You can see that Q&A, plus Governor McDonnell's answers to questions posed about job creation and immigration, in this video on YouTube:
By the way, my latest piece on ABC privatization, an interview with John Taylor of the Virginia Institute for Public Policy, is available for reading on

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Monday, August 23, 2010

Listen on the Radio

On Tuesday afternoon, August 24, I will be a guest on Coy Barefoot's drive-time radio program on WINA (1070 AM), "Charlottesville Right Now."

During the segment from 4:30 to 5:00 p.m., Coy and I will discuss the 2010 election campaigns, primarily in Virginia's Fifth District, and other topics of interest.

No doubt some of the issues we talk about will be nabbed from my most recent posts on, based on one-on-one interviews with public officials, candidates, politicians, political activists, policy experts, and others from Virginia and beyond.

Some of those recent articles include:

"Virginia Fifth Congressional District chair Bill Stanley cites 'sense of urgency' in 2010 election"

"Health care, jobs are top issues for Prince Edward County voters, says GOP chairman Daniel Bradshaw"

"Four priorities for election law reform in Virginia discussed by VEBA legislative chair Robin Lind"

"Glenn Beck's substitute host Doc Thompson talks about libertarian values and hot issues of the day"

"Virginia's top elections official Nancy Rodrigues says 'elections have changed forever'"

"'Deep doo-doo': Virginia author Jim Bacon warns of coming financial crisis in 'Boomergeddon'"

"Fifth District congressional candidate Jeffrey Clark endorses idea of liquor sale privatization"

"LPVA leaders react to Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello's claim of a 'libertarian undercurrent'"

"Independent congressional candidate Jeffrey Clark says 'the power lies with us'"

"WINA radio host Coy Barefoot assesses the Perriello-Clark congressional debate"

and the immensely, if unexpectedly, popular favorite:

"Congressman Tom Perriello explains his appeal to libertarian voters in Virginia's 5th District"
Read any (or all) of these articles and call in to Coy's show tomorrow with your reaction or a question. Join the conversation; it's free!

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Thursday, August 12, 2010

Report from the Virginia 5th District Congressional Debate

Yesterday the Senior Statesmen of Virginia sponsored a candidates' forum for those seeking to represent Virginia's Fifth Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives.

All three candidates who qualified for the ballot were invited to participate, but only incumbent Democrat Tom Perriello and independent challenger Jeffrey Clark chose to attend.  Republican nominee Robert Hurt decided to sit this one out, missing the opportunity to appear on C-SPAN, NPR, several local radio and TV stations, and in newspaper and blog reports about the debate.

I have written three articles on based on interviews conducted before and after the debate.

Before the event began, I chatted briefly with Jeff Clark, a Danville Tea Party activist who is running without party affiliation, a conscious decision on his part.  Even though we only spoke for a few minutes, he gave me enough material for at least three articles -- though so far I have only written one of them.

The interview with Clark can be found under the headline "Independent congressional candidate Jeffrey Clark says ‘the power lies with us’".

After the debate ended, I had an even briefer time to speak with Congressman Perriello, who was not, as I had expected, besieged by reporters from other media outlets.  He answered three questions from me, including one that is starting to get attention outside the Fifth District:  How does he plan to earn the votes of self-identified libertarian voters in this election?

In his response, Perriello suggested that his vote on the comprehensive health care bill was motivated by libertarian concerns, although his explanation was thin, to say the least. 

My interview with Perriello, titled "Congressman Tom Perriello explains his appeal to libertarian voters in Virginia’s 5th District," was also discussed earlier today on The Schilling Show on WINA-AM.

Finally, I caught the moderator of the debate, the Sorensen Institute's Coy Barefoot, and asked him for his impressions of the event. He thought the discussion was substantive and "covered a lot of ground."

As an aside, I also recorded nearly the entire debate on video. Unfortunately, the battery on my camera expired just before Jeff Clark's closing remarks. I have posted one short excerpt on YouTube, in which the two candidates answer a question I posed (in writing via the moderator) about same-sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). To my surprise, Clark gives the very libertarian answer that the best solution may be to get government out of the marriage business altogether. Perriello dodges the question about DOMA, both in the forum and when I asked him again later.

Here's the clip:
I did not, by the way, ask the question, "Do you believe that Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness includes gay marriage?" I wish I had. (Mine was the wonkier question recited by Coy Barefoot.)

Update:  Local Libertarian activists react to my interview with Congressman Perriello -- expressing skepticism about his claims to libertarian tendencies -- in this article: "LPVA leaders react to Democratic Congressman Tom Perriello’s claim of a ‘libertarian undercurrent’."

Update 2:  The New York Times Caucus Blog picked up this post and linked to it and the accompanying video on YouTube.

Update 3:  A second article based on my interview with Jeffrey Clark is now live on  In it, he discusses his support for Governor Bob McDonnell's proposals to privatize Virginia's liquor monopoly.
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Sunday, August 08, 2010

My Interview with Virginia Governor Bob McDonnell

Nearly 15 years ago, syndicated columnist Deroy Murdock wrote an article that appeared in the Washington Times (February 26, 1996; not available on the Web) with the headline, "Prohibition, alive in Virginia."

Murdock focused particularly on a then-pending lawsuit concerning the Commonwealth of Virginia that had been brought by a wine distributor, in a case known as Brown-Forman Corporation vs. Sims Wholesale Company.  He also took broader aim, however, at Virginia's post-Prohibition system of controls over the sale and distribution of beer, wine, and spirits, including a government-owned and -operated monopoly on the wholesale and retail sales of distilled spirits (that is, liquor).

Murdock quoted a libertarian political activist who at the time lived in Arlington County, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.:
Stiff limits on the importation of alcohol lift this 80-proof trade wall even higher. It is against state law to bring more than one gallon of wine, beer or spirits into Virginia. Despite the fact that "you could reasonably say that the prices in Washington, D.C. are lower than in Virginia," as Mr. [Curtis] Coleburn states, anyone who bought a case of beer in Georgetown and drove it to a barbeque in Fairfax would be a lawbreaker.

All of this limits consumer choice. "In Arlington County, with a population of 200,000, there are only four ABC stores I am aware of," says writer and policy analyst Richard Sincere. "In a four-block radius of my office in downtown Washington, D.C., there are six or eight liquor stores." Mr. Sincere also sees far more variety in District stores than in Virginia's. Washington retailers "sell more than liquor." "They have cheese, wine glasses, potato chips and newspapers. The Virginia ABC stores have all the personality of a DMV office. They're plain cinderblock structures with plain walls. There are no advertising posters, no color. They remind me of my trip to the Soviet Union in 1987. There were stores there that just were called `Milk' or `Bread.' In Virginia, they say `ABC Store' in big block letters. This is the last vestige of socialism in Virginia."
In a suggestion aimed at then-Governor George F. Allen and the still-Democratic-majority General Assembly, Murdock said that privatization was overdue:
The Elliott Ness-era moonshine still that is Virginia's alcohol policy should be streamlined for the 21st Century. Wine and spirits manufacturers should be free to hire and fire distributors as swiftly as law firms can pick and choose among FedEx, UPS and Airborne. State liquor stores should be privatized, perhaps with their public-sector employees given the first crack at buying the means of alcohol distribution at a fair market price. Virginia's alcohol consumers should be free to shop in Washington. and surrounding states to satisfy their wallets and taste buds. And if they drink what they buy on the drive home, they should be arrested and stripped of their drivers' licenses.
Fast forward a decade and a half, and we can see that this issue is still on Virginia's agenda.  Governors since George Allen have urged consideration of privatization proposals, but there has been no movement.  Now, however, a window of opportunity may exist for Virginia's political leaders to make a decision that modernizes and liberalizes the ABC system, acknowledging that the free market is better than socialism.  This time, ABC privatization is a top priority for Virginia's governor.

On Wednesday evening in Roanoke, Governor Bob McDonnell hosted a town hall meeting to discuss his government reform proposals with constituents, some of whom came from as far away as Craig County.

While McDonnell insists (see video below) that there are "hundreds" of suggestions for government reform -- making government more effective, more efficient, and less costly -- the centerpiece and most popular (and most controversial) of those suggestions is the one he made during last year's gubernatorial campaign.  That is, to privatize the state's monopoly on liquor sales, turn it over to the private sector, and use the hundreds of millions of dollars in proceeds to pay for improving Virginia's transportation network.

About an hour before the town hall meeting began in the chamber of the Roanoke County Board of Supervisors in front of a standing-room-only audience, Governor McDonnell sat down with me for a one-on-one interview on the specific issue of ABC privatization.

An edited transcript of our conversation can now be seen in two parts on  You can read Part 1 here, and Part 2 here.

The complete conversation can be seen on this video, taken by Steven C. Latimer.

Other articles I have written on the topic of ABC privatization include an interview with Garrett Peck, author of The Prohibition Hangover: Alcohol in America from Demon Rum to Cult Cabernet; another with's Nick Gillespie, who calls Virginia's monopoly control of distilled spirits "mind numbing"; and a third with Antony Davies, an economist affiliated with the Mercatus Center at GMU who teaches at Duquesne University, who has studied the differences between control- and free-market states over a 36-year period.

I have some other interviews on this topic "in the can," so look for them on soon.
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Video Visit to the Albemarle County Fair

On Friday night I went to the Albemarle County Fair.  The weather was near-perfect -- pleasant temperatures, low humidity, and no rain or wind to dampen the festivities.

I caught some of the fair's atmosphere on video.  Enjoy!

If you see yourself in the video, say hi!
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Saturday, August 07, 2010

Jefferson Area Tea Party's Grass-roots Bona Fides

If you need evidence that the Tea Party movement is made up of grassroots, neophyte activists, look no further than this email invitation sent out on Friday by the Jefferson Area Tea Party, which is based in the Charlottesville area.

If the amateurishness of this email message is not immediately apparent, don't worry that you've missed it.  It took me several minutes to figure it out.

A truly professional operation -- the alleged "grass tops" that exercise cynical control over the Tea Parties from some undisclosed hideaway in Washington -- would never have let this pass, because a basic piece of information is missing.

Did you figure it out yet?

The invitation to the rally does not tell recipients of the message where they should go to protest Congressman Tom Perriello. 

Yes, it does say "Carysbrook Performing Arts Center," but unless you live in Fluvanna County or near Fork Union (where the Carysbrook Center stands), you're unlikely to know where it's located.  I had to look it up on Google, and even then got the impression that it was near Lake Monticello.  (Maybe it's near both places; my sense of rural geography is not well-formed.)

I can imagine that other Tea Partiers from Albemarle, Greene, and Nelson counties, as well as from the city of Charlottesville, scratched their heads in ignorance.  How many would have bothered to look up the name of the performing arts center to learn where they should be on Saturday morning?

It's a simple rule of political activism:  Spoon feed the troops with information as much as you spoon feed the media.  They're not going to bother to find out for themselves what you should be telling them in the first place.

The accusations of top-down manipulation of the Tea Party are clearly misdirected.  Professional political operatives don't make these kinds of basic mistakes.

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Tuesday, August 03, 2010

None of the Above

In Sunday's Las Vegas Sun, Anjeanette Damon suggests that "None of the Above" might be the favored option of Nevada voters faced with the choice of Harry Reid and Sharron Angle on the ballot this November.

Damon explains:

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s 55 percent unfavorable rating is matched by the 56 percent unfavorable rating of his GOP rival, Sharron Angle.

The most popular ballot option might not be for a person at all. “None of these candidates” is expected to draw a significant portion of the vote in November because of the candidates’ unpopularity and the pessimistic mood of the electorate.

More than merely a gauge of Nevada’s ennui, “none of the above” could determine the outcome of the election and will almost guarantee that the Senate race victor emerges with less than 50 percent of the vote.
Citing UNLV political scientist David Damore's recent study of the "NOTA" phenomenon, Damon goes on to note how it plays into other elections:
Nevada is the only state to allow voters a none-of-the-above option in statewide races. The Legislature instituted it in 1975 amid the mistrust of government brought on by the Watergate scandal.

In researching its effect, Damore found voters rely on it more in primary elections, nonpartisan races and down-ticket races. Generally, the less information a voter has about the candidates in a given race, the more that voter is inclined to vote none of the above. It can draw from 15 percent to 18 percent in statewide judicial races, for example.

However, in high-profile, hotly contested races, such as Nevada’s U.S. Senate contest, the none-of-the-above option is a way for the electorate to register a protest vote. The draw in these races is smaller, perhaps 1.5 percent to 3 percent, depending on how unpopular the two major candidates are.
Seeing the article this week reminded me of a letter to the editor I sent to the Christian Science Monitor about 18 years ago. It was published on June 19, 1992, under the headline, "The 'None of the Above' Option":
The Opinion page article "Vote `No and `Yes' to Democracy," June 12, on voter dissatisfaction and the possibility of adding "None of the Above" (NOTA) to United States election ballots, mentions that variants of this choice have been used in Eastern Europe. It is also used in Nevada, where it is nonbinding, and regularly in nongovernment elections, where it often is binding.

The Libertarian Party includes NOTA on ballots for party elections and its platform has long called for NOTA's inclusion on US federal, state, and local election ballots. In the party context, in any election in which NOTA wins, that office goes unfilled and unfunded until the next scheduled election.

Beyond serving as a vent for "throw-all-the-bums-out" steam, NOTA also provides a mechanism for voters to indicate their belief that an office itself - not just the politician who holds it or wants it - is unnecessary and should be eliminated.

Unfortunately, incumbent legislators know the dangers NOTA poses for their comfortable existence. It will take a strong grass-roots effort to get career politicians to approve laws that allow voters authentic choices in every election.

Richard Sincere Jr., Arlington, Va., Chairman, Libertarian Party of Virginia
Although I was registered to vote in Nevada for nine years (1979-88), I never exercised the NOTA option. I don't think I knew it existed and in those (personally pre-political) days I was not paying close attention. I wish I knew more details its origin so I could pursue getting it adopted into Virginia's election code.
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