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Virginia watches as Washington state voters reject liquor privatization

Rosalind Helderman

Among all the election returns Tuesday that must have been heartening to Gov. Bob McDonnell (R), there was one election clear across the country that might have hurt just a touch.

Voters in Washington State appear to have rejected a pair of ballot initiatives that would have privatized the state's sale of liquor. Each of the measures would have ended the state's monopoly on the sale of hard liquor--which McDonnell wants to do in Virginia.

One measure, pushed by a major campaign by Costco, would have allowed major retailers to stock liquor on their shelves. The other would have eliminated state taxes on liquor while requiring retailers to buy liquor from distributors--maintaining a traditional three-tier system for alcohol distribution.

According to the Washington State Board of Elections, both measures went down to defeat--with 51.94 percent and 63.25 percent of Washington voters saying "no" to each, respectively.

Washington residents may have been convinced by a massive vote "no" campaign sponsored by beer wholesalers, who were uninterested in seeing liquor come to stores that now sell only beer and wine. They may have been concerned by figures showing the state would lose money after privatization. They may just have been confused by the two competing ballot initiatives.

Regardless, the vote may be a cause of concern for McDonnell, who has maintained that Virginia residents support privatization, even if their state legislators are wary. McDonnell has promised to introduce legislation to end Virginia's 76-year monopoly on the sale of hard liquor on the first day of the 2011 legislation session.

By Rosalind Helderman  | November 3, 2010; 5:20 PM ET
Categories:  Liquor privatization, Robert F. McDonnell, Rosalind Helderman  
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Worth noting that the "massive vote no campaign" involved -- besides the beer wholesalers -- the state nurse association and other health groups, the firefighter council, sheriffs, the Washington Education Association and many others. See for more and the coalition's persuasive video spots. They talk of stats like 25% failure rate at minimarts to turn away the underage.

Also the recent publicity re: the college binging party that took place in Washington state probably gave voters pause. Nine freshmen hospitalized, very high blood alcohol levels. It drew attention nationally to Four Lokos, "blackout in a can." One colorful can, fruity flavors, includes caffeine and an alcohol content equal to about 4 beers.

Posted by: anonymousid | November 4, 2010 12:25 AM | Report abuse

If McDonnell is lucky, the legislature will reject his stupid short-sighted plan.
I think he just wants people to think he put a big effort into trying to get it passed, but he probably wants it to fail himself.
he knows how badly it will hurt Virginia if it passes but he doesn't want it to seem like its his fault he failed to keep his biggest campaign promise.

Posted by: MarilynManson | November 4, 2010 8:45 AM | Report abuse

I agree with Marilyn. Virginia benefits from liquor distribution and sales. All profits from liquor sales goes back to the state which is used to fund projects and programs. If Gov Bob McDonnell sells the liquor stores and inventory to the private sector, sure, it will benefit the state by receiving a nice lump sum from the sale of the stores and inventory. But there goes your nice annual income Virginia would get from the ABC Stores in the future. Would make the governor looks good while he is in office with that nice lump some he got for the state. But then when he is out of office, that nice income VA used to get will have disappeared. How convenient for the Governor.

Posted by: michluce | November 4, 2010 10:21 AM | Report abuse

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