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Friday, 13 August 2010 08:50

I confess to some small satisfaction when voters gave the hook to two of Michigan's most anti-wine consumer officeholders in the state gubernatorial primary earlier this month.

Both losers -- Republican Attorney General Mike Cox and Democratic House Speaker Andy Dillon -- had dined frequently and well at the trough of the Michigan Beer & Wine Wholesalers Association. And both repaid their patrons in kind. Cox squandered hundreds of thousands of dollars in scarce state funds in 2005's winery shipping case, betting a losing hand all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, who finally called his bluff.

He seemed prepared to do the same over retailer shipping three years later, but that proved unnecessary, thanks to Dillon. Determined to avoid the pesky public scrutiny and outcry that sank a legislative ban on winery shipping following 2005's case, Dillon quietly slipped a retailer shipping ban into a no-notice committee hearing, then rammed it through the 2008 lame-duck House session in the dark of night.

Thanks to voters' wisdom, neither will hold higher office next year. Turns out that even the wholesalers don't have as much money to lavish on their handmaids as Rick Snyder, or the ability to put as many boots on the ground as Virg Bernero. Potential future recipients might take note.

But that's not what provokes my fantasy.

Today, the press is reporting that neither California's Republican Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger nor Democratic Attorney General Jerry Brown plans to appeal the court defeat of the Prop 8 gay marriage ban on behalf of the state, because neither of them thinks the ban is good law.The only folks taking up the cudgel are those who put the ban on the ballot in the first place -- and they may lack legal standing to prove irreversible injury if the ban is set aside while the appeal proceeds.

This isn't about gay marriage (though I'm all for it). It's about the willingness of public officials to take a stand on litigation based upon their reading of what makes good law and what's in the public interest, rather than kowtow to a high-rolling lobbyist or follow the course of least resistance by simply saying, "Of course we must defend any law of our state against court challenge."

So what if...

Someday soon, another consumer or retailer or winery challenges another of Michigan's antediluvian (Dan Berger's word) beverage laws.  The state's Attorney General du jour, who regularly issues legal interpretations with the force of law, looks at the law in question and announces, "I agree with those who are challenging this, and have decided, in all good conscience, not to waste the state's money or my limited staff on a lengthy court battle that we are destined to lose. We will stipulate to a verdict that overturns this statute."

And then the legislative leaders of that time say, "We appreciate the contributions that 90% of our sitting legislators receive from the beverage wholesalers, and the fundraising parties they regularly throw for us at their Lansing headquarters. But we realize the law they'd like us to pass is even more anti-competitive, anti-Michigan business and anti-Michigan consumer than the one that was just overturned. So we're not going to pass it."

Well, a blogger can fantasize, can't he?

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Want a refresher about Michigan wine history and potential? Get a quick two page cheat-sheet by Layne Cameron in Western Farm Press, and make some allowances for the MSU-centricity (the author's employer).

Links to wine news from Michigan and elsewhere. Use the Contact Form to let us know what should be here.


Recently-deceased Korean dictator Kim Jong Il was a wine geek (and reputed alcoholic) with a 10,000-bottle cellar, according to ex-Slate wine columnist Mike Steinberger. Kim earlier gave up Hennessy Cognac on doctor's orders.