LCB’s Future Up To Politicians

OCEAN CITY — All parties
with a stake or even an interest in the Worcester County Liquor Control Board
scandal knows that the final decision on the quasi-governmental monopoly’s
future will come at the hands of elected officials.

This week, some of those
politicians spoke about the ongoing investigation and were anxious to see the
long awaited financial reports from the LCB, but they were still mostly mum
about their official stance on the issue.

Delegate Jim Mathias, on
the campaign trail for a State Senate seat against a primary challenger and
then Republican challenger Michael James, if successful, has publicly stated he
would be willing to submit a bill in January that would attempt to abolish the Worcester
County dispensary, which has been in power since prohibition, so long as the
local liquor licensees can submit a revenue replacement plan and malfeasance is
proven. This week, Mathias stood by his earlier statement.

“I am still anxious to
see how this is all going to go, and I’m watching it closely,” said Mathias,
“but I still stand by my official statement that said that if the allegations
are found to be true, and the restaurant and bar industry presents an
acceptable plan to replace the revenue for the people of the county, that as
your senator, I would introduce legislation to abolish the dispensary system in
Worcester County.”

As the state
Comptroller’s investigation on the LCB continues and reportedly scheduled to be
coming to a close in the next few weeks, interest has started to turn toward
the political players who hold the power cards in determining the LCB’s fate.

Local political
strategists or enthusiasts have even gone as far as to wonder if a bill similar
to Mathias’ intentions would pass the Senate if James were to win the seat,
based on his freshman status, and if James would be willing to submit such a

James feels that it is
important to wait and get the official reports from the Comptroller’s
investigation and from the official audits before making such a stance.

“We’ve been waiting for
their reports for some time, and I’m hoping that they come out soon,” said
James, “but I think we really need to be cautious to ensure that we have all
the information in front of us so we can make rational decisions because this
effects a lot of people.”

Another angle that has
come up in recent weeks that has allegedly become a huge talking point is
Delegate Norman Conway’s stance on the matter. Conway, chairman of the House
Appropriations Committee, is campaigning to keep the delegate’s seat he’s held

The theory that has been
circulating throughout the area in recent weeks that if Mathias or James were
to propose legislation that would call for the LCB’s abolishment and it were to
pass at the Senate level, the bill could still die on the House floor if Conway
were to oppose it.

Conway said this week
that he hasn’t spoken to anyone about his stance yet and thinks that the people
should more than likely decide.

“There are so many
components to this right now, and I don’t want to be preemptive or premature in
making a decision,” said Conway. “I want to meet with both sides and hear
everyone out, but ultimately I think that maybe it should go the route it did
in 1998 and have the people decide by referendum.”

In 1998, the people
voted to keep the dispensary system, despite an aggressive campaign to see them
abolished by the licensees.

However, the last few
months have not only seen a similar campaign from the licensees to abolish the
LCB, but it has been coupled with allegations of price discrimination, price
gouging and unethical business practices by the quasi-governmental monopoly.

Conway said that he
believes that the LCB must be held accountable for why their revenues have gone
down by more than $600,000 in the last three years alone.

“That’s really the big
question – where the money has gone,” said Conway. “So, if they are a
responsible board, they need to answer all the questions that are on the table
about the money.”

Mathias said that he hasn’t
spoken with Conway about the LCB debate, nor has he asked for his support on a
possible bill that he would submit, most likely because his seat is uncertain
and so is Conway’s, even though Conway is considered to have a much easier road
to re-election than Mathias does to obtain a Senate seat.

Either way, Mathias
believes that if the situation arose, Conway could go the route of what is
called local courtesy.

“[Conway] is my senior
and I would most certainly look for his support on this if that’s the way it
ends up going,” said Mathias. “Although he and I have voted differently on many
occasions, I would think that in this case he would look to me as the resident
delegate and extend me the local courtesy.”

Conway said that he
would most likely consider a “local courtesy” type of vote, but noted that he
does still believe in the dispensary system and needs to see the results of the
state Comptroller’s investigation.

“I would extend the
local courtesy and respect his stance, but only after looking at all the
facts,” said Conway. “I am still a firm believer in the dispensary system for
the few counties that have it left in Maryland, because there is just a
potential for lots of money if it’s managed properly.”