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Tuesday, Sep 30, 2014
Joe Henderson Columns

Henderson: Freedom-loving GOP? Not when it comes to beer

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Published:   |   Updated: April 26, 2014 at 11:49 AM

Richard Gonzmart is as reliably Republican as someone can be.

He is in the fourth generation of Gonzmarts to run the iconic Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City. Owning a place like that takes a self-starter with ample supplies of brains and guts. This is not a life for someone unwilling to take risks to reap the rewards. Those words could have been taken from the preamble to the GOP handbook.

So, it's worth paying extra attention when this proud, successful businessman says he is “amazed” that state legislators from his party are supporting the “Big Beer” lobby with a bill that would drive up costs in asinine ways for craft brewers, including him.

“They are trying to hurt small businesses,” Gonzmart said Friday. “This is 2014. Republicans should be trying to help small businesses.”

Instead, a Senate rules committee passed Bill No. 1714 sponsored by Lakeland Republican Kelli Stargill. It requires brewers producing more than 2,000 kegs of beer a year to sell their brew to a distributor that would then sell it back to the brewer — conceivably without the product ever leaving the site where it was produced.

The bill is scheduled to come before the full Senate on Monday.

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Let's put this in practical terms. Gonzmart will soon open Ulele, a trendy restaurant just north of downtown Tampa. He is investing about $900,000 in an on-site brewery that will produce unique craft beers. As long as he stays under 2,000 kegs a year, he's fine at the Ulele location.

But if he wants to sell the product he brews there at the Columbia he owns, he can't just load some kegs in the back of a truck and drive it about two miles to Ybor City. Under this law, he would have to sell it to a distributor, who would haul it to the Columbia and sell it back to Gonzmart.

One estimate is that the middleman needlessly increases the cost to the brewer by 30 percent.

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Earlier this week, Hillsborough County Commissioner Mark Sharpe passionately argued for a letter to be sent to the local legislative delegation asking for its help in defeating the bill. Fellow commissioners acted as if Sharpe had introduced something radioactive.

“It's not our issue. It's not our fight,” Commissioner Sandy Murman said.

Um, just spitballing here ...

Encouraging developers to pave over every inch of green space in Hillsborough County: That's the commission's fight.

Helping local businesses in the fight against ridiculous regulations imposed by the party of freedom: That's not the commission's fight.

“I'm not a quitter, but if they pass this, I'll leave the party,” Sharpe said.

I asked Sharpe if he is really serious about that.

“Yeah, I'd leave,” he said. “This is outrageous. Of course, (Republicans) would probably be thrilled. This is the antithesis of everything we stand for. If we push for legislation that hurts small businesses, I want no part of that.

“Government's job is not to harm entrepreneurship. That's for Russia. That's what they do. We're a freedom-loving nation that is supposed to support entrepreneurship.”

Instead, we get this form of legalized extortion.

In the old days, guys would break your legs to get what they wanted.

Now they just pass a law.

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