North Idaho GOP club files liquor privatization initiative

BOISE - An offshoot of one of Kootenai County’s numerous Republican clubs filed a statewide initiative Monday to privatize liquor sales in Idaho.

The move is separate from one that had been mulled by the same grocery association that backed the successful liquor privatization drive in Washington state. Instead, the “Reagan Republicans” group said its initiative would push privatization on smaller-government grounds.

“This was kind of our coming-out party for Reagan Republicans statewide, something that we thought reduced the size and scope of government,” said Jeff Ward, president of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans and the new Idaho Federation of Reagan Republicans. “I’m an evangelical Christian, very conservative, and my viewpoint is with the way that works now, as a state, it makes me basically a shareholder in the liquor business, and I don’t want to be in the liquor business.”

The Kootenai County group has about 150 members, Ward said, and it was started in the summer of 2009; it’s one of an array of GOP clubs in the county, which also has the Panhandle Pachyderms in Post Falls; the North Idaho Pachyderms, who meet in Coeur d’Alene; Rally Right; United Conservatives of North Idaho; and the North Idaho Political Action Committee, a group led by area business people that bills itself as the “reasonable” Republicans in North Idaho.

Ward characterized the Reagan Republicans as “pretty ecumenical,” and said it’ll probably endorse some candidates backed by the hard-right United Conservatives and some backed by the more moderate NI-PAC.

Ward was the North Idaho field director for the Idaho Republican Party’s election push in 2010, but he said the Reagan Republicans group is “officially independent.” He touted the success of local candidates it endorsed in 2011 for city council, highway district and school board positions.

The group must collect 47,441 signatures by April 30 to put its initiative on the ballot.

Its filing Monday came the same day that the Northwest Grocery Association decided not to pursue an initiative in Idaho this year after all; the group’s lobbyist, Roy Eiguren, said the group now plans instead to press for legislation in 2013 to privatize state liquor sales. “We had taken a look at possibly 2012, and concluded that it was not feasible to do,” Eiguren said. “We’re going to pursue it legislatively. We don’t want to have the perception that somehow we’re end-running the governor and the Legislature.”

The grocers had no comment on the Reagan Republicans’ initiative; Eiguren said he hadn’t seen it.

The measure would allow fully privatized liquor sales in Idaho on July 1, 2013.

Last year, a state study found that Idaho could make as much or more money by privatizing its state liquor sales, but Gov. Butch Otter and many lawmakers said the state wouldn’t go that route, because the Idaho Constitution requires the state to further “temperance and morality.” Idaho lawmakers who oppose alcohol consumption on moral grounds have long maintained that state control of liquor lowers consumption.

However, a 2009 survey of per-capita alcohol consumption from all beverages by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, a division of the National Institutes of Health, found that Idaho’s consumption, at 2.68 gallons per capita, was above the national average of 2.3 gallons. Utah had the nation’s lowest consumption at 1.33 gallons; highest was New Hampshire, at 4.38 gallons. Washington was near the national average at 2.34 gallons.

The 2011 Idaho state privatization study found the data inconclusive as to whether direct state involvement in liquor sales curtails the “intemperate use of alcohol.” That’s partly because Idaho’s liquor division controls only sales of hard liquor; beer and wine sales already are privatized and are more widely available, and beer is the most-consumed alcoholic beverage in Idaho.

Idaho Sen. Steve Vick, R-Dalton Gardens, a board member of the Kootenai County Reagan Republicans, said, “I guess I’m not sure how the state running the liquor business promotes temperance and sobriety. Seems to me there’s a liquor store in virtually every town. … I don’t see how the state owning the stores helps.”

Rep. Bob Nonini, R-Coeur d’Alene, also is a board member of the group.

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