The state of Idaho has poured Five Wives Vodka a shot of free publicity.
Not that Ogdens Own Distillery is in an ideal position to cash in. The Utah-produced vodka is essentially a controlled substance in Idaho, where the rules of private enterprise govern nearly every sector of commerce, save for booze.
Five Wives has been banned from the shelves of Idahos state-run liquor stores because the brand name, and its too-tepid-to-be-edgy reference to polygamy, may be offensive to Idaho Mormons.
Never mind that practicing Mormons arent supposed to frequent a liquor store. (Not to put too sharp a point on it, but thats the truth.)
Never mind that Five Wives is available in state-run liquor stores in Utah, where The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is headquartered. (Which means, in some Southeast Idaho border towns, driving to Utah to look for a wife may have just taken on new meaning.)
Never mind that anyone can walk into an Idaho grocery store and grab a Polygamy Porter. Thats because the state allows this thing called the free market to determine what brews are available for sale and the state has withstood the grave affront posed by Polygamy Porter.
So I go back to an old question: What is the state doing in the booze business, anyway?
The Five Wives fiasco is further proof 80 proof, to be exact of the inherent silliness of state-controlled liquor sales. Its ridiculously hypocritical to put the decisions of liquor product sales in the hands of a state bureaucrat, Jeff Anderson, who heads the state's liquor division.
Five Wives didnt make the cut largely because of its name and label. But, as Anderson told the Statesmans Audrey Dutton, personal preferences entered the equation. (Five Wives) doesnt have a unique flavor profile ... its quite average.
Sounds like a matter of taste, then. Kind of like the offensive Five Wives name is also a matter of taste.
While Five Wives is getting all the media attention, and the Ogden distillery is playing the states snub to full public relations advantage, Idaho turns down brands of booze on almost a daily basis. The state gets pitches for 500 or so products a year and says yes to about 150, Anderson said.
So thats about 350 brands banned in Idaho, every year. Remember that the next time you hear an elected official talk about how government just has to get out of the way of private business.
Some private business, anyway.
Idaho could actually pocket a windfall if it got out of the liquor business $48 million to $60 million the first year, and $200,000 to $600,000 thereafter, according to a January 2011 Office of Performance Evaluations report. But Gov. Butch Otter is staunchly opposed to privatization, and the Legislature isnt taking on this idea of its own accord. Conveniently forgetting their rhetoric about free enterprise, they wrap themselves in state code that speaks of curtail(ing) the intemperate use of alcohol.
A noble cause, and a valid public objective. But one that also could be furthered by taking a segment of the privatization windfall and dedicating it to education and detox programs.
Dont bank on this happening, however. Unless and until the private sector presses the issue which is what happened in Washington, where Costco was a driving force behind a 2011 initiative to privatize state liquor sales this idea isnt going anywhere.
And Idaho will keep running its liquor monopoly. No matter how foolish and hypocritical it looks in the process.
DUGOUT DICKS DUGOUTS
Itd be easy to proclaim May 31 Nanny State Day and hang this same label on those folks at the Bureau of Land Management.
After all, look at what the feds are doing to the makeshift matrix of caves that, for decades, was home to one of Idahos true characters, Richard Dugout Dick Zimmerman. Two years after his death, the BLM is filling in the caves above the Salmon River where Dugout Dick carved out a mountain mans existence and rented space to visitors for $2 a night or $25 a month.
Sure, itd be easy to berate the BLM folks and call them a bunch of bureaucratic fraidy cats, but Im not buying it. The agency is in no position to monitor use at these deteriorating caves; leaving them alone would pose an undue risk to the public.
Government cant do much about the labeling of a legal product that might (or might not) offend people. But government should take reasonable steps to keep people from getting injured or killed in the middle of nowhere.
Kevin Richert: 377-6437