As snow uncharacteristically blankets most of Texas, even penetrating the infamous San Antonio snow force field, I’m energized by the fact that sometimes improbable events can come to fruition. The timing couldn’t have been better, because as of a little over 12 hours ago I am left with the feeling that HB 660 has no more than a snowball’s chance in South Texas from ever being a reality.
Those of you who have read this blog from the beginning (or have dug through the archives) know that I firmly believe the bill is a win-win for every part of what is actually the 5-tier system in Texas (brewer, wholesaler, retailer, consumer, the State). As I wrote back on Day 6: Debunking the Chaos Myth, while the wholesale tier as a whole would be better off by HB 660’s passage, there would be some losers. Specifically, those who choose not to carry craft beer and are now faced with increased competition for industrial light lagers that have lined their pockets and furnished their mansions.
Well after weeks of attempts, I finally got an opportunity to speak with a representative of the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas yesterday. Before I go into that, just a little background on the Wholesale Beer Distributors of Texas, who they represent, and their apparent mission. The WBDT is a trade organization led by a gentleman named Mike McKinney that represents the Wholesalers and Distributors of approximately 50% of the beer sold in Texas. If you do a little background information on McKinney (which you can do by clicking here), you’ll find he’s a powerful lobbyist. Some organizations have rated him the single most powerful lobbyist in Texas. Not surprising, considering how much money the WBDT contributes to politicians around the state, even without considering the individual contributions of WBDT members.
So, back to that meeting with the WBDT representative. As I mentioned, I’d been trying to have any kind of discussion with this organization for several weeks. Usually my efforts resulted in leaving a message with an unnamed person at their office, with the promise of a call back that never materializes. As it turns out, yesterday’s meeting was by chance rather than design. I was attending a TABC stakeholder meeting on beer & ale/malt liquor requirements, and it just so happens WBDT was in attendance (I’ll also give you one guess as to who is hesitant to change labeling requirements away from our archaic beer/ale distinction in Texas).
As the meeting broke up, I cornered one of the WBDT reps, introduced myself and started a discussion on HB 660 and how I would love to meet with their representatives and our elected officials to see if there is common ground on our bill passing. Like pulling a string on the back of a doll who spits out a series of pre-determined quotes, the following words tumbled out of the WBDT rep’s mouth, just as they have been programmed to do:
“The 3-tier system as it is exists has served the State of Texas very well for a very long time.”
First, let’s examine the notion that our existing system has served the state well for a very long time:
- It has favored out-of-state businesses over in-state businesses, and restricted the growth of Texas breweries
- It has prevented retailers from featuring local products
- It has limited consumer choice
- It has robbed the state of revenue that could be generated by the growth of an industry
What I think the WBDT drone really meant to say was:
“The 3-tier system as it exists has made my clients very rich for a very long time.”
Like a depression era parrot, the WBDT likes to spin tales of how the existing system prevents us from pre-prohibition era tied-houses and we should be thanking them for sparing us from the intemperance and ills that led to the outlawing of alcohol in 1919.
In reality, the WBDT exist strictly to enrich their clients. They know they cannot win in a court of public opinion, so they never offer to comment on what seem like common sense improvements to our state’s alcoholic beverage code. And the wholesalers who fund the WBDT are well-aware of the weakness of their position. Wherever you find an extremely highly paid team of lobbyists, you are bound to find a position that is not able to stand up on its own merits.
The WBDT’s goal will be to prevent HB 660 from getting a committee hearing, because they can’t stop the public hearing that happens every day on our televisions, papers, internet and daily lives. They do not seek to defend their position with logic or reason, but rather through back room deals and secret handshakes.
The bottom line is that HB 660 has but a snowball’s chance. But that doesn’t mean I won’t put together the best snowball I can and fire a fastball at the problem.