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TRI In The News

Republicans Remain Largely Silent as Dems, Others Question Role of ABC

ALEXANDRIA, Va. — It’s Democrats, not Republicans, who are speculating the government may be overstepping when it comes to a state agency with a liquor monopoly.

Democratic lawmakers and many concerned Virginians are demanding the state rein in Alcoholic Beverage Control’s enforcement arm — or eliminate it entirely — after the second aggressive and controversial arrest of a Charlottesville college student in two years.

But Virginia Republicans, who were split on former Gov. Bob McDonnell’s plan to privatize the state’s monopoly on liquor, have remained eerily silent. Self-described conservatives in Virginia’s Republican Party, as has reported, oftentimes call for limited government but change their collective tune when it comes to police powers.

Last week, ABC agents charged 20-year-old UVA student Martese Johnson with public intoxication or swearing and obstruction of justice. Johnson required 10 stitches for a head wound. Police confronted the UVA junior after he was denied entry to a local bar and turned away. Footage of the bloody incident has sparked protests across UVA’s campus.

Johnson’s arrest comes just 1 1/2 years after six ABC agents, one with a gun drawn, descended on 20-year-old UVA student Elizabeth Daly because she had a pack of sparkling water, which apparently looked like beer.

Now, one online petition is just a few signatures shy of the 44,000 it needs to go to Attorney General Mark Herring. Seven Democratic members of the House public safety committee have sent a letter to Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, expressing their concerns about the enforcement arm of ABC.

Republicans are awaiting an investigation by the Virginia State Police.

“It’s illegitimate overreach,” said John Whitehead, president of the Rutherford Institute, a civil liberties-focused think tank based in Charlottesville. “There’s definitely government overreach.”

“ABC should be dismantled,” Whitehead said. “There’s no reason that the state should run the alcohol business.”

If anything, local police, not ABC agents, should be keeping towns safe.

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