FAIRBANKS — I am disappointed with the very one-sided view Dermot Cole took in a recent column on the Legislature’s decision to move the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board from the Department of Public Safety to the Department of Commerce. Clearly, he has done much research but, in my opinion, has failed to grasp the viewpoint of the small, local business owners (who are licensees), as well as the many consumers of beverage alcohol who the hospitality industry serves in a safe, regulated and responsible manner.
The industry provides enjoyment of a legal product that, in moderation, provides positive health benefits and an improved quality of life for the vast majority of the folks who choose to consume alcoholic beverages.
As a lifelong resident of Fairbanks, past chairman and current board member of the Alaska Cabaret, Hotel, Restaurant and Retailers Association and a small business owner and multiple liquor-licensee who employs approximately 70 people, I am disappointed he portrayed our association as “big industry.” Indeed, Alaska CHARR has developed respect among regulators and lawmakers, but it is the result of integrity, responsible business practices and grassroots efforts on the part of hundreds of local, small-business owners. There is no large corporate or external influence, as with many of the predominant industries in Alaska.
We as an industry, and our leadership (of which I am proud to be a part of), firmly believe in the positive benefit of responsible business practices, development and maintenance of reasonable laws governing our industry and consumers, and effective and consistent enforcement and regulation in a manner that promotes the welfare and standard of living in our local communities. Eliminating access of alcohol to underage consumers and promoting responsible business practices are the shared goals of Alaska CHARR and its leadership, as well as of the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board. I believe achievement of these important goals is most likely in a regulatory and administrative framework that allows for a collaborative approach that combines enforcement with education and encompasses a perspective that is not exclusively based on a law-enforcement mentality.
Certainly, there are substantial (and sometimes tragic) negative impacts to the abuse and irresponsible use of alcohol. This is one rationale behind our support of this legislation; our goal (both stated and real) in supporting the passage of HB125 is that the ABC Board refocus its resources on addressing the numerous, substantial issues that stem from the unregulated trade and consumption of alcohol by minors (more than 90 percent of whom do not obtain alcohol from licensees) with often tragic consequences.
It also worth noting that the substance of HB125 originally was recommended by the Legislative Budget and Audit Committee (not the hospitality industry), and the bill went through a two-year period of numerous public hearings in several House and Senate committees before its passage on the last day of the legislative session. To characterize the passage of HB125 as some 11th-hour back-room deal that did not receive public scrutiny and input is wholly inaccurate and would seem to downplay the efforts of those involved in this process, as evidenced by the bill history and committee meeting minutes.
As an industry, we remain committed to a firm, stable and consistent regulatory framework, including compliance checks and reasonable and substantial penalties for failures, in order to promote healthier communities and to benefit all communities (whether “wet,” “damp” or “dry” under the local-option law).
A more apt title for the column could have been: “Liquor industry hopes for more consistent enforcement and collaborative relationship with regulators to address the problems with irresponsible consumption of alcohol in Alaska.” This nuance is at the core of the underlying issue; the vilification and marginalization (a la prohibition) of the vast majority of responsible, small business owners and licensees who improve the quality of life for all (whether consumers of alcohol or not) and provide a substantial, positive economic benefit to their communities and the state.
Beverage alcohol has been a part of our history for more than 12,000 years and was integral in all aspects of American history, starting with the Mayflower voyage and the American Revolution that was originally planned in taverns over a beer or hard cider. The marginalization of alcohol that founded the temperance movement and subsequently prohibition, and the resultant genesis of organized crime as a result of this failed experiment, underscore the need for effective, consistent and firm state-based regulation to minimize the negative impacts of alcohol while promoting the positive benefits to our society.
Glenn Brady, of Fairbanks, is a licensed professional engineer, president of Silver Gulch Brewing and Bottling Co. and an active community member who is married and has two young daughters.