Doug Robinson: Toast the drinking commissioner

Published: Monday, Feb. 27 2012 10:46 p.m. MST

Assistant manager George Pence arranges the alcohol at a State liquor store in Salt Lake City, Utah, Thursday, May 27, 2010.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

Enlarge photo»

Utah's never-ending battle between drinkers (tastes great!) and nondrinkers (less fulfilling!) has led to enough laws and rules to rival the IRS, the NCAA and possibly even the Canyons School District.

Did you hear about the latest cockamamie idea that has been proposed on Capitol Hill?

As originally written, HB193 would require that two of the five commissioners — or 40 percent — who serve on the state liquor commission be drinkers, and no more than 60 percent can be from the same political party.

They must be serious about this because the "drinking commissioners" originally were going to be required to provide an affidavit to the governor proving that they had had at least one drink a month — or they could bring a note from their local bartender or parents, whatever.

An amended bill cleared a House committee last Friday removing the definition of "regular" drinker, but the "drinking commissioners" still would have to sign an affidavit verifying they have consumed alcohol for a year prior to being appointed — hopefully with some breaks in there somewhere because that sounds like a lot of drinking.

Maybe they could save time and trouble and just knock back a couple of brewskis during the meetings.

"It is my opinion that when we regulate an industry, we should have representation from those who are being regulated," said Rep. Brian Doughty, D-Salt Lake City.

"Sounds like the ultimate minority quota to me," counters one Republican legislator. "(Drinkers) already are represented. It's no different than any other issue. Every legislator was elected by and represents his constituents. It's the minority trying to rule the majority again. "

Following Doughty's line of thinking, if every special interest group has to be represented there's no telling where this could lead.

Will the Board of Pardons be required to have several of its seats filled by convicted felons?

Must the motor vehicle and highway safety agencies be represented by people who want to loosen speeding laws?

Will the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health be represented by people who want to legalize marijuana?

Must the tax commission be represented by people opposed to taxes?

Taken to its extreme, let's dispense with elections and require the state Legislature to be filled by x number of appointed Democrats, Republicans, non-gun owners, Hare Krishnas, dog owners, cat owners, tattooed people, pierced people, tattooed AND pierced people, teenagers, tall people, short people, Hummer drivers, soccer people, non-soccer people, Spandex people, people who wear sneakers with slacks, people who smoke and throw cigarette butts out the car window ... we can have Doughty figure out the percentages for each.

Since state audits last year revealed financial mismanagement in the commission, there have been calls for overhauling the system. What else is new? Utah's liquor laws have been derided and lampooned for decades.

Mostly the argument from the drinking crowd runs something like this: The other 49 states are making fun of us. Why can't we be like everyone else?

Another question might be: Why do we want to be like everyone else?

Sheesh, pardon Utah's liquor laws and, while you're at it, pardon Utah for living longer and healthier than just about any state in the union. Utah's "quaint" liquor laws – some of which are pretty silly – have contributed to the following:

Year in and year out, Utah boasts either the lowest or one of the lowest mortality rates in the country.

Among all states, Utah has ranked first, or close to it, in fewest alcohol-related traffic deaths for years.

Utah has the lowest per-capita consumption of alcohol in the nation.

In 2009, Utah was named the second healthiest state in the nation, according to the United Health Foundation, and continues to rank among the healthiest annually. The report noted that Utah had the lowest rates in the nation for smoking, cancer deaths, infant mortality and binge drinking.

As fellow Deseret News columnist Lee Benson wrote a few years ago, "It might be harder to drink here, but you do have a better chance of leaving alive and uninjured — and if you decide to stay and put down roots, chances are you'll live longer and healthier. Nothing terribly inhospitable, embarrassing or insulting about that."

You can drink to that – or maybe not.

email: drob@desnews.com

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