After the perfunctories of the first days of the 108th General Assembly were dispensed with — the wholly unsurprising re-elections of the lieutenant governor, speaker of the House and the sundry constitutional officers — it was time to get down to the messy business of discussing the laws to be made (once the legislators return in two weeks).
There will be education reform and gun-rights battles and budgets to be passed. And, for the sixth session in a row, someone will try to give the good people of Tennessee the right to buy a bottle of Two-Buck Chuck at Trader Joe’s.
Wresting the wine monopoly from the exclusive clutch of the liquor stores has never been an easy task — for the decades of Democratic control, the liquor lobby represented the most powerful influence peddlers in the state.
But some within the new Republican supermajorities aim to fix it.
The people of Tennessee — even teetotalers like Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey — are seemingly overwhelmingly in support of the idea that grown people should be able to purchase wine the same places they purchase cheese.
Outside of the obvious opposition of the liquor stores — who can’t be blamed for standing in the way here, as self-interest is a force even more powerful than a supermajority — another lobby stands in the way of the long-delayed marriage of Tennesseans and Cost-Cutter Cabernet.
A very serious-looking group of law enforcement officials strode into Capitol Hill to express their very serious concerns with increased access to Beaujolais.
The crux of their argument is that their already limited resources will be diverted further once the scourge of readily available wine sweeps the state. How, they asked, can they be expected to solve murders when a 19-year-old might buy a bottle of wine at the Piggly Wiggly? Wine-drunk youths will carouse in the streets! They’ll block important intersections with their wine parties, and wine glasses will burst the tires of police cruisers speeding to the aid of a damsel tied to the railroad tracks, no doubt put there by a dastardly teenager hopped up on merlot!
But one argument stood out for its absurdity in a press conference filled to the brim with nonsense.
Knoxville police chief David Rausch said if wine became available at Weigels, there’d be more so-called “butt-chugging” incidents similar to the one that was his department’s unfortunate lot to deal with last fall.
While any public discussion of butt-chugging is welcome — if only for the humor in watching how publications and media outlets who take themselves far more seriously than this one try to earnestly explain the practice — Chief Rausch’s logic here is as impeccable as that of the UT fraternity brothers who chose to get drunk in this most uncomfortable of ways.
How many times in the past 12 months has butt-chugging been in the news? One. And where did that happen? Tennessee. Not in one of the myriad other states which actually make wine available in the grocery store, but here, where buying wine means forking over your parents’ hard-earned money to the state-sanctioned liquor monopoly.
There are no doubt (probably … maybe … in a limited way) decent arguments against allowing wine to sit on a shelf near the Bunny Bread and paper towels, but apparently Chief Rausch has never heard them.
Certainly, the chief’s concern about Tennessee’s reputation as a potential hotbed of butt-chugging is well-placed. The Volunteer State doesn’t deserve the burden of national embarrassment from such incidents when we have so much more to be embarrassed about, including whatever kookery emerges after the 108th’s two-week break.
What’s truly embarrassing is that Tennessee trusts that every adult is capable of the responsibility of handling military-grade firearms, but doesn’t trust them with the grave responsibility of making a convenient booze purchase.