Infuriating… And Frustrating…
The war continues, my friends. Another key battle happens today. And I am going to say some things that certain entities out there are not going to want to hear. But these things need to be said. So, if you are afraid of being called out, or are uncomfortable with looking in the mirror, you might want to stop reading now.
But first, the issue at hand: Senate Bill 1714. This is SPB7120, submitted to the Community Affairs Committee under a new number. Sneaky, eh? The committee meeting is today at 3pm, so swift action is needed. The bill is bad on several levels, but the most odious provision is this: it will no longer allow breweries to sell bottles directly to customers. All bottles must be sold to distributors, who can then choose to sell back to the brewery or not, or even raise the price. Special bottle releases will be at the mercy of the distributor.
Not surprisingly, this bill was authored by Senate President Don Gaetz (R – District 1, Panama City), who you may recall is buddies with Lewis Bear of Lewis Bear Distributing, who also happens to have contributed a large amount of money towards Gaetz’s campaign. Gaetz repaid the favor last year by appointing Lewis to the Enterprise Florida Board of Directors. And who says there is no corruption or cronyism in Tallahassee?
But this is not new news. We have known this for a while. And Gaetz – as he loves to point out in his canned email responses – is not on the Community Affairs Committee, so will not be voting today. The members that are voting are:
Chair: Senator Wilton Simpson (R – New Port Richey, District 18) – (850) 487-5018 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice Chair: Senator Geraldine F. “Geri” Thompson (D – Orlando, District 12) – (850) 487-5012 email: email@example.com
Senator Rob Bradley (R – Orange Park, District 7) – (850) 487-5007 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Dorothy L. Hukill (R – Port Orange, District 8) – (850) 487-5008 email: email@example.com
Senator Jack Latvala (R – Clearwater, District 20) – (850) 487-5020 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Christopher L. Smith (D – Ft. Lauderdale, District 31) – (850) 487-5031 email: email@example.com
Senator Darren Soto (D – Kissimmee, District 14) – (850) 487-5014 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Senator Kelli Stargel (R – Lakeland, District 15) – (850) 487-5015 email: email@example.com
Senator John Thrasher (R – St. Augustine, District 6) – (850) 487-5006 email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Or you can email them at their Senate pages here.
I probably do not need to reiterate how bad this bill is for Florida breweries, consumers, and craft beer lovers. It is not a partisan issue, although it is the Republicans in power who are primarily pushing this agenda. But the money is flowing freely across the aisle. And again, the sheer hypocrisy of some of those claiming to be “small government, free enterprise, reduced regulation” conservatives is infuriating.
You know things are heating up when we start getting press outside the state. There was a great article in the Chicago Tribune that really highlighted what we are facing here. They quoted big-beer lobbyist Mitch Rubin (Florida Beer Wholesalers Association) as saying their goal was to “re-write the state’s rules governing the craft brewing industry to create strict lines between manufacturers, distributors and retailers.” he claims this would “preserve competition.”
How disingenuous can you be, Mr. Rubin? Competition? It is racketeering, sir. You are a liar. Period. It is no secret that as craft beer has grown in popularity, AB/InBev’s shares have shrunk, and the only way your handlers can think to address it is to squash the innovators and small business people. I keep hearing the same tired line of “preserving the three-tier system” and preventing “tied house evil.” Guess what, no one is threatening your precious three tiers. Regardless of the supposed merits and protections of this antiquated system, allowing 64 ounce growlers and retail tastings are simply not factors in that. At all. So stop with the alarmist posturing, and do not insult the intelligence of the community by making wild claims about competition. It is simply untrue.
We all know about the distributors from FBWA pushing the anti-craft movement. Here in Tampa Bay it is Pepin Distributing and Gold Coast. Active donors to many of the anti-craft legislators, and firmly entrenched in the AB/InBev camp. They and their lobbyists have made no bones about their intent. But what about the others?
It has been very frustrating to watch some of the other distributors stand by silently. And I am speaking specifically about J.J. Taylor and Brown Distributing. J.J. Taylor is a member of of the Beer Industry of Florida, who has frequently touted its support for craft brewers, and yet has been silent in recent weeks about these anti-craft beer bills. I even reached out to people I know to see if maybe I had missed an official statement. I hadn’t. Brown is a member of FBWA, but has been very active in promoting craft beer around the state. And yet silent on this issue.
So now I am calling on JJ Taylor and Brown – and every other distributor in Florida – to make your position known. Let your retailers, your customers, and the breweries you represent know exactly where you stand on these bills. And don’t give us the ridiculous “it’s complicated” answer. It’s not. It does not take a constitutional scholar or Ph.D in economics to see what these bills do, and do not do. It is very telling that there is not a single Florida craft brewery (that I am aware of) that supports SB1714. So where do you stand?
I have friends at these distributors. People I like and respect, and I know share my opinion on this. And they have to be frustrated as hell with the inaction of their executives. The money being shoved at legislators from the FBHA is significant. If you really support Florida brewers like you claim to, why are you not fighting back with your own financial power?
This may get me uninvited from some events, but this is too important not to say something and encourage action. I now call on anyone out there who wants to see craft beer continue to thrive in Florida. Once you have hammered the Senate, start asking the distributors where they stand. Breweries, ask your distributors – the ones who are supposed to be helping you grow your business – where they stand. Upcoming breweries and breweries in planning, take a long hard look at what these distributors do in the coming days and weeks and take note. Are they going to look out for you?
This war is far from over, but we can’t stop fighting the battles.