The Shame of Self Interest

The Illinois State Capital is among the most beautiful buildings I’ve ever seen. It is literally awe inspiring. Perfectly proportioned, topped with a great gilded dome, filled with magnificent statues of great men and women, festooned with murals that speak to the travails and mighty triumphs of pioneers and leaders.

It is the kind of place that Laine Hanson, the first American Vice President in the movie "The Contenderr", would identify as a "Chapel of Democracy".

What a shame that cynicism, spite, graft and corruption fester inside that fine place.

Between Monday (when a hearing on an Illinois wine shipping bill took place in committee) and Tuesday (when the same wine shipping bill was voted on by the Illinois Senate) Illinois legislators who do their work in what should be an atmosphere that inspires respect for law and people demonstrated that for a few campaign bucks they are willing to sell out Illinois citizens, the law and fairness.

It’s shameful in every way.

On Tuesday the Illinois Senate vote 49-5 to pass HB 429 and send it on to the Governor who is reportedly ready to sign it. HB 429 will strip consumes of the right they’ve had for 15 years to purchase wine from out of state retailers. The law, by also ALLOWING in-state retailers to ship wine to Illinoisans is blatantly unconstitutional, flying directly in the face of the principle of non-discrimination that the Supreme Court ruling Granholm v. Heald outlined so eloquently just 2 years ago.

HB 429 was the culmination of two years of political in-fighting, back room negotiations, public outcry, misinformation and necessity.

Doing the back-room negotiating over those two years were Illinois alcohol distributors, Illinois wineries, California wineries, and Illinois retailers. It’s no coincidence that the folks that really got screwed by HB 429 were never represented: Consumers.

All the groups who did the negotiating were all too willing to toss consumers under the bus, move forward, then back up over the consumer again, in order to get what they wanted.  Specialty Wine Retailers Association, the group for which I act as Executive Director, thought we had a seat at the table until our seat was pulled out from under us. That was my mistake for riding the wrong horse into the race.

However,  I often wonder if SWRA had been directly at the table with the other bus drivers, if I would have been equally willing to flatten the consumer with the rolling weight of self-interest the way the wineries, distributors and Illinois merchants chose too.

Of course, wine retailers across the country, who had been invited into Illinois for 15 years to cultivate a market of wine lovers, have been told they  are no longer welcome to do business with those or any other Illinois wine lovers. Yes, that’s a huge loss for wine retailers. And after this loss, progressive wine retailers across the country should now understand that there is unusual grouping of California Wineries, wholesalers and parochial wine retailers who are willing at every turn to gather their forces, and work together to toss retailers under the bus.

Yet how appropriate that in the end it is those folks, the retailers, who are closest to the concerns of consumers, know consumers best, and interact with consumers most that would be the last group actually looking out for the consumers’ interests.

I hope wine lovers across the country take note of this. I hope wineries who supported the hit and run on consumers and retailers in Illinois take note of this. I hope folks take note of the organizations that DID NOT  but should have been representing the interests of wine lovers in Illinois.

I have some interesting anecdotes I’ll pass on here about my experience working this issue over the past seven months and about my experience testifying before the Illinois Senate Executive Committee on Monday.

In the mean time I’d hope that those in wine industry who read this blog take time to consider the implications of associating with those who would actively throw retailers and consumers under the bus. And I’d hope that consumers give good thought to who their friends and supporters really are. It’s important to know these things.

If you are a wine lover or wine industry person who wants to keep track of these shipping issues and hear from the folk who on a regular basis who are actually willing to look after their own interests as well as consumer interests, sign up for the SWRA newsletter.

7 Responses

  1. razmaspaz - August 9, 2007

    blogger doesn’t have trackback capabilities, but I just added my thoughts to the issue

  2. Josh - August 9, 2007

    You’re going to need to be specific I think for people to get into a fighting mood over this.
    What exactly was the Wine Institute’s position on this bill and how did they throw consumers under the bus?
    Did they support the bill all the way through the process or was their position “nuanced”.
    I don’t see how the WI can say they are representing wineries interests by depriving us of high margin customers in Ill, but I need more info before I can properly work myself into a self righteous lather.

  3. Stephen - August 9, 2007

    I believe Tom knows the folks at the Wine Institute, and I don’t, so perhaps he’ll have a different answer, but from what I’ve read (mostly newspaper coverage) the WI was part of the talks when the bill was being created, revised and finalized, and they are clearly listed as endorsing/supporting the bill in its final form – effectively eliminating retail to consumer out-of-state shipments. As for their representation of wineries (good or bad), that’s for the wineries to determine.

  4. Randy Hall - August 9, 2007

    Oh, Tom isn’t pissed at all, is he?
    [[dripping sarcasm]]
    Wow, considering you were stuck in IL after all those goings-on with a dead cell phone, I could understand why you were in no mood to be on Wine Biz this last Monday.
    I want to know more about what happened, and I signed up for the newsletter and all. Do you think we should have a special Wine Biz episode devoted to this? Perhaps we record a special discussion that we can air as a segment? Let me know.

  5. Jill - August 9, 2007

    Argh! To say something really intelligent on the topic, this is all a real bummer.

  6. Christina Anderson-Heller - August 10, 2007

    The Illinois Wineries’ Alliance, thanks you Tom, for bringing such passion and expertise to Springfield! Fred (of Lynfred) and Scott (of Galena) have told me you did a bang up job! We can assure your readers that The Illinois Wineries’ Alliance will continue the pressure. Never. Give. Up.

  7. Dan Cochran - August 13, 2007

    Welcome to wine-lovers hell, Illinois; we Pennsylvanians have been here all our lives. Tom’s description of the Illinois capitol matches that of Harrisburg; beautiful building, corrupt legislature.

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