General McChrystal and Alcohol Regulators: Subverting Democracy
In criticizing the Obama administration General Stanley McChrystal made a fundamental mistake that is too often perpetrated in our society: He mistook himself for a politicians when he is really just an administrator. The reason this is such an important mistake is because the fundamental role of an administrator is to carry out policy. The fundamental role of a politician is to make policy on behalf of the people. The key difference here is that a politician has a constituency, that group that America's Founding Fathers identified as "The People" and who are the ultimate authority. An administrator has no constituency other than the politicians who tell them what to do and to whom they are beholden.
The same mistake was made by the National Alcohol Beverage Control Association (NABCA) when they endorsed H.R. 5034, a bill introduced into Congress that would fundamentally alter the political power between the federal and state governments. The NABCA is an association of alcohol administrators in states where the government controls some portion of the sale of alcohol and who are APPOINTED by politicians to carry out the will of the politicians' constituency: The People. When the NABCA endorsed H.R. 5034, they made the same mistake as General McChrystal did of confusing their position in the hierarchy of political power by taking on the role of politician rather than that of administrators.
It turns out another association of alcohol administrators, The National Conference of State Liquor Administrators (NCSLA) is considering making the same mistake. These kind of mistakes subvert democracy and often effect the rights of The People in ways that administrators have no business doing.
The annual conference of the NCSLA is finishing up today in New Orleans. Yesterday there was a heated debate over H.R. 5034 between wholesalers and producers with wholesalers arguing that states had lost much of their power to regulate alcohol according to the 21st Amendment due to the Granholm v. Heald Supreme Court decision and subsequent lawsuits. Meanwhile producers argued that passage of H.R. 5034 would not only fundamentally alter the relationship between state and federal authority where alcohol regulations are concerned, but severely damage the position of producers in the market while enshrining wholesalers as the most powerful and controlling entity within the alcohol distribution system.
It's good that these kind of debates occur. They air out the issue and allow stakeholders to do what stakeholders should do: stake out a position. However, where politics are concerned (and the question of the virtue of H.R. 5034 is most definitely a political issue) state regulators are decidedly NOT stakeholders.
At the end of yesterday's debate at the NCSLA Convention, wholesalers asked the numerous state alcohol regulators in the room to support H.R. 5034. Producers asked them not to. The NCSLA should heed the advice of the producers and, as an organization of administrators with no constituency other than their politicians who appointed them and make the laws they administer, take no position on the bill. By asking the regulators to support the bill the wholesalers in the room were asking administrators to step into a political fray of which they have no business being a part.
If the NCSLA takes a position on H.R. 5034 it would not be the first time alcohol administrators usurped the power of The People and their representatives. Not long ago Nida Samona, a mere political appointee as the Chairwoman of the Michigan Liquor Control Commission, worked closely with wholesalers to help fundamentally alter the ability of Michiganders to access wine shipped to them from retailers. She forcefully supported a bill in Michigan while closely working with wholesalers in that state. It was an unconscionable and unethical overreach by an administrator who mistook herself for a politician. And just as General McChrystal should be sacked, so too should have Ms. Samona.
If the NCSLA comes down on the side of the wholesalers and endorses H.R. 5034 they will formally announce themselves as no longer being the fair and impartial administrators of alcohol policy that they are supposed to be. They will announce themselves as lackeys of the wholesalers.