OLYMPIA — Western Washington voters are showing support for the initiative to privatize liquor, despite anti-privatization ads appealing to voters’ sense of community safety.
Costco’s record-breaking contribution of $22 million may be paying off. Fifty percent of Western Washington voters outside Puget Sound — including Clark County — favored the initiative compared with 44 percent opposed, according to a poll released Monday by the University of Washington.
While Costco has been the main source of funding for promoting 1183, the biggest contributors against the initiative are beer and wine distributors, at both the state and national level.
“It’s more than ironic, I think it’s despicable. Frankly, it’s hypocrisy,” said Kathryn Stenger, spokeswoman for the I-1183 campaign. Stenger said she had doubts about how concerned national alcohol distributors are about Washington communities and finds it ridiculous that beer and wine distributors were funding ads aimed against alcohol.
“These are organizations which have actually fought Mothers Against Drunk Driving on a national level when they tried to get stronger DUI regulation,” Stenger said.
Clark County alcohol distributors have shown little opposition to the measure. No local distributors have made direct contributions to either side of the initiative.
However, a last-minute contribution of $5,000 to the anti-1183 campaign, called Protect Our Communities, was made on behalf of Jon H. Thrift Enterprises, a Vancouver property management company.
Protect Our Communities ads, sponsored primarily with the money from beer and wine distributors, show minors purchasing alcohol, law enforcement officers appealing to voters’ sense of safety and family members of drunk driving accident victims sharing their stories.
The facts have been presented and debated on both sides of the initiative, including a claim that drinking would increase 48 percent if I-1183 passes.
“The data doesn’t support that. If you look at the state of California they have eight times the number of liquor outlets in Washington and their per capita consumption rate is the same as Washington,” Stenger said.
The logic behind the claim is that the number of stores eligible to sell alcohol in Washington could more than quadruple, according to a report by the Office of Financial Management, which would make alcohol more available and the number of consumers would rise. There are currently 13 liquor stores in Clark County. If 1183 passes, alcohol availability could double with large retail stores, such as Costco, choosing to sell spirits.
A federal task force, which compiled a number of studies where alcohol sales were privatized, came up with the 48 percent estimate and recommended against privatization. However, in most of the research hard liquor was not studied. Many of the studies only analyzed privatized wine sales.
Another concern, underage drinking, would not increase, according to Stenger, who said that while more stores would sell alcohol, regulations would be strengthened with mandatory training and increased penalty fines.
“They do it safely in other states,” Stenger said. “Otherwise there wouldn’t be so many states with privatization on the books. We should be up to date with the rest of the country.”
Efforts to reach the Protect Our Communities advocates were not successful.