by Peter Freyne
State Rep. Bill Aswad (at left, with the late, great Act 250 co-author and State Sen. Art Gibb's portrait behind him), has been a fixture on the Burlington, Vermont political scene since B.B.G.E. - "Before Bernie Got Elected." That means before March 1981.
If my memory is correct, way back then, Bill Aswad was the head of the Burlington Planning Commission. He subsequently was a city councilor before election to a state representative post from the New North End in 1994.
In the Burlington political trench warfare of the Sanderista vs. Old Guard Era that was the 1980s, Aswad was considered Old Guard Democrat.
BUT, he always had the ability to never take it personally. To keep lines of communication open. To be flexible when the common good demanded it. Now in his 80s, Ol' Bill has been quite a remarkable Vermont public servant with an emphasis on service.
So when he plopped down in the chair next to me outside the Statehouse cafeteria today, I was all ears.
Rep. Aswad, a retired engineer, simply could not believe it. Could not believe that everyone else on the Ways & Means Committee had voted "yes," he said, on a measure that will make beer drinkers happy.
Currently, said Ol' Bill, one must go to a state liquor store in Vermont to purchase beer that has an alcohol content of 16 percent - more than triple what's sold everywhere else. The Ways & Means Committee, he said, approved its sale at the 1200 "mom & pop" convenience stores in Vermont, too.
What's Aswad's problem?
Two-word answer: "drunk driving."
He's got a point, eh?
So did our Republican Gov. Jim Douglas when we put the question to him at his weekly presser Thursday afternoon. Here's how it went
Press: Ways & Means approved, with one "No" vote, allowing mom & pop stores to sell beer with 16 percent alcohol content, which to a lot people probably sounds like a great idea. You probably support that?
[Cute, but the Middlebury Marvel has spoken out publicly, even of late, in favor of lowering the drinking age to 18 - were it not for the damn feds threatening to punish states that do so with funding cuts. It's the civil-libertarian in him, eh?]
Press: [Rep. Aswad] says it would be sold in 1200 mom & pop stores - 16 percent beer. If I remember my beer-drinking days, that's a lot of alcohol, at least triple...
Gov. Douglas: "Your memory isn't really that faulty."
Press: Before, the strongest was 6 percent [Brador, remember?] and you had to drive to Canada to get it. But given your feelings on drunk-driving, don't you connect those dots, Governor?
Gov. Douglas: "Well, people are going to purchase the product. It's not a question of whether it's available or not, it's just a matter of where it's available."
"Obviously I also want to do what we can to help our mom & pop retailers. They've had a tough time over the last few years, as you know, with some extra costs and expenses of doing business and we don't want to make it any more disadvantageous. So I'm still trying to sift through the pros and cons of that bill."
Good answer, eh?
So people will buy the product anyway, eh, Jimbo?
Of course, under the exact same logic, Gov. Scissorhands would no doubt also support legislation allowing those same mom & pop stores to sell pot, er, excuse me, "medical marijuana?"
After all, it appears to be readily available to Vermonters at present - even at the grade-school level.
No problem disposing of "empties," either.