We've got beer

What Brewgate tells us about political attitudes. Plus, Wisconsin is a warm-up for 2012.
By EDITORIAL  |  August 10, 2011

BeerEditorial

Even by Massachusetts political standards, Brewgate was a weird episode.

Last week, the Bay State's growing community of craft brewers learned that their industry, which employs about 1100 workers, was in danger of being decimated by a new state regulation that no one had told them was even under consideration.

That rule would have required the makers of such beers as Samuel Adams, Harpoon, Ipswich, and Wachusett (to name just a sampling of the more than two dozen affected) to either grow themselves or buy from Massachusetts farmers at least 50 percent of the grains or hops they use.

In theory, this was a good idea. But in reality, it would be impractical at best and disastrous at worst: Massachusetts does not grow enough of what is needed to keep the brewers in business.

When news of this change became public, the foam flew.

The well-intentioned but clueless regulators at the Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission took a dive and undid the damage they were about to unleash.

More study and public hearings around the state were needed, the ABCC concluded.

Is that genius or what?

State Treasurer Steve Grossman, whose office oversees the ABCC, said, "We realized that perhaps we went a little beyond what was practical."

That's true. But it's a bit too glib.

Mistakes and missteps occur in every line of work. This one, however, appears to be particularly telling. It highlights a growing tendency in state government toward nanny-ism and know-it-all-ism.

It is — to adopt Grossman's understatement — unappealing.

Incidents such as this fuel Tea Party rage (although, in fairness, people like the Tea Baggers seem to go searching for reasons to be agitated). And they try the patience of average citizens who hold government in increasing contempt.

If the eggheads at the Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School of Government were to put their yolks together to develop a case study on how not to grow business, how not to regulate a growing industry, and how to lose public confidence in the process, then Brewgate would be a great place to start.

Because Grossman is a smart guy and a former businessman himself, we have little doubt that he'll be able to fashion a better ending for this story.

Integrating the craft-brew business with the locavore movement should be a winning idea. Let's hope that promised hearings on the subject are more substance than show. This could and should be a win-win for Massachusetts.


ON WISCONSIN

Dust off your history books and let's put the recent political events in Wisconsin into some perspective.

Think of the Spanish Civil War. That classic conflict between Fascists and Socialists is widely considered as a dress rehearsal for World War II.

The good guys lost round one in Spain, but after much toil, tears, and sweat, the forces of light emerged victorious at the end of the larger and more important struggle.

The Wisconsin battle to recall six state senators who voted to strip public employees of their right to bargain collectively — even after the public-employee unions had agreed to givebacks that would have reduced a coming budget crisis — ended with the GOP holding on to four of those seats.

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