I have a specific bone to pick today regarding a recent op-ed published in The Daily Record. But I want to provide a little context first.
It’s Gotten a Little Bit Noisy
Though I admit I have been living under a self-imposed rock for the past month and a half, that doesn’t mean I’ve been deaf, dumb and blind to what has been transpiring out in the land of Maryland beer legislative hijinks, even if I’ve been lacking the time and energy to sit down and respond to it all.
In fact, as I pause and reflect on the somewhat sudden overflow of voices opposed to creating legislative footholds to help craft brewers grow and sustain their businesses over past couple of months, I’ve noticed their steady pace of quotes in objective reporting, editorials and grand pronouncements are strikingly unified in positioning, tone and message, particularly from Maryland House leadership.
First, they’re dismissive of and/or offended by accusations that they favor only two-thirds (distributors and retailers) of the three-tier system over the remaining third (brewers). Then, they position themselves as the real champions of Maryland brewers — even though it appears neither the brewers themselves nor Gov. Larry Hogan realizes it.
Oh, and Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot? Even though his office is “responsible for monitoring the manufacture, storage, transportation, sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages and tobacco in Maryland,” now might be a good time to consider boxing him out of alcohol oversight.
For those who don’t know, my primary career is not as a beer writer, and I make no money through this little Naptown Pint website, save for my column through The Capital.
By day, I work at a marketing agency. In one part of my role, I work with organizations, marketers and leaders through workshops, speaking, coaching and editorial oversight to develop their voice and refine how they package their messaging strategy, so they can be persuasive and engaging, and drive desired actions in their target audience.
I bring this up not to bore you to death with the finer details of my life, but rather to say recent statements are making my professional marketing (and PR adjacent) brain wonder if this is a well-coordinated PR campaign leading up to the kick-off of the 2018 Maryland General Assembly Session, which is less than a month away.
To be clear, this is pure speculation based on my own assumptions and, quite frankly, I don’t know what I don’t know about who says what, why and when.
(I have been known to mentally reject things that give the appearance of being excessively neat and tidy when my gut says there’s a mess that’s been swept under the proverbial rug. But my gut isn’t always right.)
That said, it should surprise no one that coordinating a narrative is a common strategy in politics and has already been seen on display earlier this year from different (but likeminded) parties.
Enter Stage Left, Diane Riibe
Even though I’m itching to set aside my own tinfoil hat, another entry into the neverending stream of whatever this non-campaign is has come in from left field, in the form of commentary for The Daily Record by Diane Riibe (listed as the Chairwoman for the U.S. Alcohol Policy Alliance) entitled, “Franchot misguided on Maryland alcohol policy.”
The original article linked above is behind a paywall, but an alternative website did republish — with credit — Riibe’s piece, which you can read in full here.
“We want to commend House Speaker Michael E. Busch for raising concerns over Comptroller Peter Franchot’s latest example of skirting his public duty to provide fair and balanced oversight of the regulation of alcohol in Maryland. We can unequivocally say it is, indeed, about the children. And it’s about their families and the communities in which they live.
We, too, take issue with the comptroller’s ongoing abdication of his responsibility to reasonably regulate the retail sale of alcohol. With the public health of Maryland families at stake, we agree that the General Assembly leadership is appropriate in raising the question whether Peter Franchot is able to serve in this critical role as chief alcohol regulator.
Long before the comptroller’s pro-industry task force on craft breweries, he appeared to be doing the bidding of the alcohol industry to expand alcohol sales in the state to the detriment of Marylanders’ health, safety and general well-being.
In fact, there’s a paper trail connecting the comptroller to illegal campaign finance contributions (as documented by The Daily Record, The Washington Post and the Baltimore Sun) from some of the most powerful alcohol industry players in the country and to conducting unscientific polling to push his agenda, “a world without limits” for craft breweries in Maryland. The comptroller seems to have fallen victim to the industry’s deep pockets, becoming what’s known as a captive regulator who has lost sight of a balanced approach that’s critical to regulating a product that can cause great harm.”
It continues on and on, and again, you can read the full piece here.
Franchot Chief of Staff Responds to Riibe Editorial
On December 19, 2017, Franchot’s Chief of Staff Len Foxwell responded to Riibe via email, which was later transmitted via email to all members of the Reform on Tap Task Force, myself included. And it would appear that I am not the only one interested in the timeliness of all of this messaging.
Foxwell’s full response can be read below, with excerpts extracted by me afterward:
Excerpt, page 2: “To be candid, it is also to question why someone who spent decades working in a government-funded advocacy group 1,400 miles away, now oversees an organization with no obvious ties to Maryland, and has no evidence of prior residency, advocacy or legislative engagement in our state, has suddenly adopted such a fervent interest – and has arrived at slanderous conclusions – surrounding Comptroller Franchot’s efforts to reform Maryland’s dysfunctional craft beer laws.”
Excerpt, page 3: “In that spirit and context, it is wholly appropriate for the State of Maryland’s independently-elected Chief Fiscal Officer to use his position and platform to elevate public awareness of our state’s 84 working craft breweries, and to advocate for laws that will foster their competitiveness, success and long-term growth. In fact, one could argue that it would be an abdication of duty if he failed to embrace policies that strengthen his state’s long-term fiscal and economic outlook.
Furthermore, in case anyone reading your piece fears that Comptroller Franchot actually aspires to transform Maryland communities into scenes from a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit, I respectfully challenge you to point out one instance where he has called for a “bar, brewery or liquor store on every corner.” I cannot speak to the legal protocols in Nebraska, but here in Maryland, decisions on the location, dimension, scope and aesthetic characteristics of these and other local businesses rest in the hands of our local governments, and not the Office of the Comptroller.”
Excerpt, page 4: “To be sure, there are more questions than answers surrounding your abrupt arrival to the debate over the State of Maryland’s craft beer laws. What is striking is that the timing and message of your piece – coincidental or otherwise – are in perfect synchronicity with those of the leadership of our House of Delegates. Your belated concerns for the public health and safety of a state in which you don’t reside mirror those expressed by none other than House Speaker Michael E. Busch during his recent and highly irregular appearance at an alcohol briefing hosted by the Economic Matters Committee.”