Wednesday, August 04, 2010

Liquor-License Larceny

Most folks say that politics are the damnedest in their states so Kentucky is probably no worse than any other state. Citizens can be among the damnedest, too. After $90,000 was confiscated from among the frozen chicken-wings in former Louisiana Congressman William Jefferson’s deep-freeze, with tape of its transfer to him having been surreptitiously made in a semi-dark parking garage, he was reelected by the citizens to Congress in 2006. He was guilty of much greater graft and is now doing 13 years in a federal prison, presumably drawing his huge pension and living the good life.

Closer to home is the interesting business of the awarding of licenses to wannabe proprietors of liquor stores, this time in Danville, whose citizens decided that the community needed some strong stuff in stores, not just in saloons and restaurants. So…the city was entitled to six liquor licenses (package stores) and the locals made the proper applications to the state alcohol machinery (or chicanery, whatever) in Frankfort.

One would expect that the licenses would be awarded to the locals, fairness in government being the name of the game, with honesty and integrity promised by every office-seeker on every level since time immemorial. Successful applicants could then do the start-ups necessary to putting the bubbly on the shelves, adding income to the community, providing the absolutely necessary atmosphere to entice industry, etc., the latter perhaps the biggest fabrication of all. Loans would probably have to be engaged, facilities built or renovated, and inventory secured. All that takes time, of course.

But something happened on the way to a virtual whiskey-laden Camelot. Only three of the licenses were awarded to locals, no reason given for withholding the other three. There was a reason, of course – isn’t there always a reason? The other three went to folks from somewhere else, with no local ties to Danville…institutions already in the liquor-store business with probably no need to make any arrangements other than renting facilities, and with inventory immediately available to grab most or all of the business before the Danvillians could heave a healthy hiccup. One of the licenses went to a Canadian outfit, fer cryin’ out loud, but, after all, shouldn’t every small Kentucky town have a Canadian liquor store?

Of course, Danvillians were lucky to get half the stores. The license decisions concerning local option are not made locally, as common sense would dictate. No…those decisions are made in Frankfort, where patronage or political payoffs or rewards for campaign contributions or money under the table are the ruling factors. It could be that the governor himself might be in the decision-making process regarding liquor stores. One wonders what it was worth to the Canadian enterprise (and to the Frankfort providers of “services” to the Canadians). Of course, only the Shadow knows, although a first-grader can figure out where the profits wind up.

No sane person doubts that the licenses were handed out on the basis of graft. Indeed, Danville was probably lucky to get three out of six. It could just as easily have been one out of six. In fact, the liquor gurus could probably have awarded none just on the basis that no local applicant was worthy. There were only 18 applications – just not enough qualified folks in the Danville sector, but at least three elsewhere – like Canada. Making up rules on an ad hoc basis is nothing new. The hayseeds in Danville would not be expected to make a scene, especially since Canada is the country’s best trading-partner…NAFTA and all, doncha know!

Perhaps this wouldn’t come so readily to mind if it weren’t for the fact that in the newspaper every day there are numerous accounts of skullduggery among the officials, everything from vote-buying to embezzlement to assassinations. One has to laugh aloud when remembering the BopTrot scandals of the early 1990s in Kentucky culminating in a passel of legislators and bureaucrats trucking on down to the Big House. The Speaker was even forced to pay for his own keep.

The federal prosecutor in that episode was fired by President Clinton (in fact, all the nation’s prosecutors but one was fired – no reason given) or there might have been more incarcerations of the solons. A lead federal attorney, Steve Pence, wound up as lieutenant governor in the flawed Fletcher administration in 2003.

Bottom line – nothing new! Kentucky’s politics are still the damnedest! Let the liquor bubble all over Danville and the devil take the hindmost in the success or failure of the opportunists. Disclaimer alert: I’m a Prohibitionist!

And so it goes.
Jim Clark

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