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Cricket: New spots on the liquor board? Sign me up

Published February 29, 2012 4:46 pm
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It looks like plans to expand Utah's liquor commission, the body that oversees the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (DABC), from five members to seven — and to require at least two of those members be people who occasionally consume alcohol — are winding their way through the Utah Legislature this session.

Let me take this opportunity, then, to place my name for consideration as Utah's newest liquor commissioner.

I would be the perfect compromise choice for the liquor commissioner. Yes, I do enjoy the occasional cocktail, glass of wine or bottle of beer from time to time (though never to excess), which would satisfy moderate and progressive Utahns. But, as a 47-year-old father of two preteen boys, I'm either too busy or too bloody tired to spend my nights hanging around in bars, just like the more conservative members of the Legislature.

Being a parent also gives me insight into the mechanics of the DABC. I have seen firsthand the effects of "pecking order" — I punish my older son, who then takes out his frustrations on his little brother — and recognize how similar that dynamic is to the way it works with Utah's liquor laws and their enforcement.

The Utah Legislature — the dad in this analogy — passes ridiculously restrictive laws regarding alcohol, which the liquor commission is then ordered to enforce. The liquor commission, in the role of older brother (you might even say Big Brother), is unable to go against the Legislature and passes its anger along to the staff that carries out its enforcement orders. The enforcement division takes out its pent-up frustration on the poor folks who own and operate bars and restaurants.

The result of this vicious little system is that legitimate businesspeople in Utah cower in fear that government regulators will maliciously and capriciously levy fines, suspensions and other punishments — and if those businesspeople complain, the vindictiveness of regulators will just make the hammer fall harder.

Ask the folks at Brewvies Cinema Pub, who had to cough up a $1,627 fine last fall because DABC investigators deemed a few seconds of nudity from the R-rated movie "The Hangover, Part II" violated the ban of public nudity at establishments that serve alcohol. Never mind that the law was written with strip clubs in mind to keep drunk customers from harassing the dancers, not to rein in a bar showing a movie that played without incident at every multiplex in the area.

(Actually, you can't ask the folks at Brewvies, because they're too afraid to speak out lest they incur the DABC's wrath. "We don't want to shake up anything," Brewvies' manager told the Tribune's Dawn House back in October, when the fine was levied.)

Isn't this the very sort of government intrusion into business that most of these legislators rail against with every fiber of their being?

As your liquor commissioner, I wouldn't be able to change Utah's liquor laws — because it's the Legislature that sets license quotas, price markups and the other picayune details of how liquor is distributed, sold and even poured.

However, I believe fervently that I could be a voice of moderation. And isn't moderation what this is all about?

One of my first initiatives would be to use the bully pulpit to encourage — gently, of course — our Utah legislators to understand how the hospitality industry truly works.

To that end, I would lobby for legislation that would require every Utah legislator to work for a week on the wait staff of a restaurant that serves alcohol. Every time a legislator had to walk the extra steps around the "Zion curtain" to pick up a drink order, or explain to a disbelieving tourist how the liquor laws work, it would be another step toward that lawmaker understanding how messed up the system is. (This plan would also have the side benefit of teaching lawmakers what lousy tippers some of our neighbors are.)

Even further to that end, I would request a bill to require Sen. John Valentine, R-Orem — who famously argued liquor laws with the folks from X96's "Radio From Hell" last August — to tend bar at the new Cheesecake Factory at City Creek until he truly understood the difference between a restaurant and a bar.

Last, in an effort to reduce alcohol consumption statewide, I would encourage the early retirement of Gayle Ruzicka. After all, her right-wing lobbying has driven more moderate and progressive Utahns to drink than any other single factor in the state.

That's my platform. Goodnight, and may God bless the good — and increasingly sober — people of Utah.

Sean P. Means writes The Cricket in daily blog form at www.sltrib.com/blogs/moviecricket. Contact him via email at movies@sltrib.com. Follow him on Twitter @moviecricket or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/themoviecricket.




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