Sen. Bart Hester (R-Cave Springs) today filed a bill to allow the sale of wine from any winery in grocery stores.
Under current law, only wine from small-farm wineries and Arkansas wineries is allowed to be sold in grocery stores. In disclosure, I might as well confess that I personally find this prohibition annoying. Nothing against Arkansas wine, but variety is the spice of life, and some grocery shoppers might enjoy buying other wine from time to time. Anyway.
Here’s some of the inside baseball on this. The politics are tangled. I’m hearing that the bill is Walmart’s top priority this session and that the retail behemoth has managed to get the Alcohol Beverage and Retailers Association (a client of lobbyist and major GOP player Keith Emis) to sit this one out and not fight it — in exchange for Walmart not pushing additional efforts to create more wet counties in the state. Those sitting out the fight apparently include big players in Maumelle and Conway County (represented by lobbyists Bruce Hawkins and Emis if you’re scoring at home) who fought tooth and nail against David Couch‘s recent push to make all counties in the state wet.
However, the rumor is that a splinter group of liquor stores have formed an alliance to fight Hester’s bill.
Hester is a Republican from Northwest Arkansas, where Walmart obviously has clout, but he has butted heads with their interests in the past — notably on the private option Medicaid expansion. (When Hester initially ran, Walmart was in his opponent Tim Summers‘ corner in the primary; Hester was pushed by Americans for Prosperity.) Hester has carried water for Walmart from time to time, however.
There’s a lot of money at stake on this issue, so I’d expect a drag-out fight.