State’s latest battle over booze certain to be heated, costly

  • By Jerry Cornfield Herald Writer
  • Monday, September 19, 2011 12:01am
  • Local News

You can tell Washington’s latest ballot battle on booze is warming up by the increasing volume of commercials airing on television.

Voters can expect a multi-million dollar fight for their attention in the days ahead as supporters and opponents of the liquor privatization measure are each bac

ked by well-heeled corporate interests.

Already, those dueling on Initiative 1183 have raised $9.1 million, making it far and away the most expensive contest to be decided in November.

And the number is almost certain to rise because the same forces involved this year spent a combined $15 million in their scrap over a similarly intentioned initiative in 2010.

“This is going to be a hard fought campaign,” said Alex Fryer, spokesman for Protect Our Communities which opposes I-1183. “We are going to have the resources to get our message across.”

The group launched its first commercial Sept. 6 and Yes on 1183 coalition quickly responded with two television ads.

Neither Fryer nor coalition spokeswoman Kathryn Stenger would comment on whether they intend to air commercials right up until ballot counting begins Nov. 8.

“Voters will have an opportunity to see both sides of this issue,” Stenger said. “I’m as likely to share my playbook right now as Pete Carroll.”

Initiative 1183 aims to get the state out of the business of distributing and selling hard liquor. If passed, it requires all state-owned liquor stores be closed by June 2012 and allows booze to be sold in large supermarkets and warehouse retailers.

Costco is the main source of funding for the measure, providing the vast majority of the $4 million in cash and in kind contributions collected so far. While a chunk of that went to qualify the initiative, the coalition had roughly $1.5 million in the bank last week.

Protect Our Communities had raised $5 million and spent $1.1 million as of last week. Most of the money — $4.7 million — is from one source, the Wine & Spirits Wholesalers of America. Members of the trade association of liquor distributors worry they will lose revenue if the initiative passes because retailers can bypass them to acquire their product.

Two other statewide initiatives on the ballot this year aren’t generating anywhere near the same amount of spending.

Initiative 1125, which deals with the setting of tolls and spending of toll revenue, is pushed by Mukilteo’s Tim Eyman and opposed by an alliance of business leaders, environmentalists and civic officials known as Keep Washington Rolling.

The coalition collected and spent millions of dollars in past election battles but had only raised $100,000 as of last week.

“We will have sufficient resources to communicate to voters the significance of the initiative,” said the group’s spokesman Sandeep Kaushik.

Eyman said his chief backer, Bellevue developer Kemper Freeman, will be willing to finance a response if needed.

“I get the sense he’d been willing to go dollar for dollar if anybody goes after this thing,” he said. “And with Kemper, if he’s in for a million, he’s in for three. He wants to see what the other side is doing.”

Initiative 1163 would require training and background checks for those working in adult family homes. Voters overwhelmingly passed a similar measure, Initiative 1029, in 2008.

It is underwritten by the Service Employees International Union, which spent $1.2 million to get it on the ballot.

While the union is prepared to spend vast sums to win it so far faces an opposition which had collected just $43,000 as of Friday.

“SEIU is a gigantic national organization,” said Cindi Laws, chairwoman of the group, People Protecting Our Seniors, which is opposing the initiative. “Our members don’t have the ability to write a million dollar check.”

Jerry Cornfield: 360-352-8623;

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