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Enough is Enough: Lewiston wins as effort to de-list “nip” liquor bottles fails

By Robert E. Macdonald

Mayor of Lewiston

Phew! The worm has turned. The City of Lewiston won. It’s a win that provides the city with another step forward, not backward, in our pursuit of continuing economic development.

Last Tuesday, Lewiston’s Economic Development Director Lincoln Jeffers and I traveled to Augusta to testify before the Maine Alcoholic Beverage/Lottery Commission. The hearing was held to determine whether to ban 50mL bottles, commonly referred to as “nips,” or not. A ban would have had a major impact economically on Lewiston.

Sazerac liquors is a good-sized bottling plant in Lewiston’s Industrial Park. Presently, it employs about 130 full- and part-time employees. They operate five production lines, two during the day, two at night and one line overnight. The company pays $166,000 in city taxes. They are also looking toward a $1 million expansion which would allow current part-time workers the opportunity of full-time employment. It would also expand its city tax base.

In 2013 Beam Liquor announced it was moving its operation out of Lewiston. Their closing, along with the loss of jobs and city tax revenue, represented a punch to the gut for Lewiston’s economic development. Fortunately, Sazerac, a nationally recognized company, bought the plant and started bottling their liquor brands, thus saving over a hundred good paying jobs.

Sazerac bottles a popular cinnamon-flavored whiskey called “Fireball” at its Lewiston facility. The Fireball nips represent over half the total number of nips sold in Maine. These bring a monetary benefit to businesses, state and local coffers.

I don’t partake in alcoholic beverages, but my brother described Fireball as like drinking a fireball candy. So why is the state liquor commission trying to shut this product down? Two reasons.

The bottles do present a problem when trying to keep Maine roadsides clean. Trash along the roadway subtracts from the beauty of our state. But in a vehicle going 25mph or more, you may see 12-ounce bottles, discarded cardboard containers, papers and tires, but unless you have the eyesight of an eagle, I doubt anyone could see these bottles.

It presents an irritant to homeowners when they find discarded bottles on their property; but they find other discarded materials as well.

The main reason given for attempting to de-list these nips is a slight increase in “operating under the influence” arrests. What exactly does that mean? As a society we have become lazy with the language. Many think OUI is being strictly under the influence of liquor, but it could also mean under the influence of a legal or illegal drug or substance. With the legalization of marijuana, do you think that could explain the increase?

Also, if nips are such a problem, why were there not any law enforcement personnel at the hearing? I would note that the Augusta Police Department and the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office are very close by.

Lastly, a few remarks about the hearing. Last week I received a new pair of upgraded glasses and a new pair of hearing aids, which greatly improve my hearing. Of the many people who spoke, only two, a representative from the Governor’s Office and a woman testifying for a gentleman who was on the testimony list but did not show, testified in favor of de-listing the product.

The final outcome was a vote of 4 to 1 to keep the product the way it is. This shows those present made a strong argument for their case. But what upset me was the absence of three of our five State Representatives. I thank Rep. James Handy and Rep. Roger Fuller for their presence and support. However, Sen. Nate Libby, Rep. Jared Golden and Rep. Heidi Brooks were nowhere to be found.

When Sen. Libby’s name was called, no one responded. When Rep. Golden’s name was called, a person got up and approached the testimony table. Not being able to see the person’s face, I remarked to Mr. Jeffers, “Boy, has he gained a lot of weight.” It was at that point I found out somebody had been drafted to read Golden’s statement.

The following day, an article appeared in the newspaper looking like Libby and Golden had saved the day. There was no mention of Handy or Fuller. Also, I am perplexed why either representative wasn’t recruited by Libby and Golden to read their statements.

Lastly, I guess that if you want to be successful in politics, you have to have a good PR firm behind you.

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