Booze Battle: Franchot, Kramer get personal over legislation that would strip comptroller’s office of regulatory authority

Jousting matches may be a thing of the past for a state that adopted the medieval game as its official state sport in 1962.

But the ancient hastilude is making a modern-day comeback in the form of a political grudge match for the ages, the marquee attraction that may inevitably define this year’s 90-day legislative gathering.

Starring two of Maryland’s political horsemen, Comptroller Peter Franchot and state Sen. Ben Kramer (D-Montgomery) took a day’s worth of jabs at one another over legislation Kramer introduced that would limit the state comptroller’s office from overseeing the regulation of the alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel industries.

Kramer dropped Senate Bill 703 by Monday’s deadline – legislation that, if passed and signed into law, would establish a commission to oversee alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel – effectively curbing the comptroller’s regulatory enforcement.

Moreover, Kramer’s legislation seeks to limit campaign contributions (no more than $100) from the alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel industries to politicians and government officials who have direct oversight over said industries.

Franchot, during a press conference yesterday afternoon, said Kramer’s legislation is “motivated by petty retaliation” against him for “being an advocate for craft beer, which is opposed by the big out-of-state corporate beer interests.”

(Video courtesy of The Daily Record reporter Bryan P. Sears.)

“Let me just state for the record that I will never stop my support for these wonderful businesses,” Franchot said.

While Franchot acknowledged that he takes campaign contributions from the alcohol industry, he noted that he’s “one of the few people who take campaign contributions that actually stands up to the alcohol industry.”

Franchot then went on to blast Kramer’s legislation.

“The animus that Senator Kramer has is an ancient grudge, because I’ve been a big advocate for getting rid of the monopoly system, the liquor dispensary in Montgomery County; and that’s generated a lot of heat both from him, who profits from the DLC right now, and from Geno Renne, the union boss back in Montgomery County, who is the leader of the workforce at the county monopoly,” Franchot said.

“Ben Kramer, in addition to campaign contributions, actually gets payments through his family business from the alcohol industry – from liquor stores and the liquor dispensary. So this is not a campaign contribution, this is somebody who actually has alcohol payments put into his pocket each month. And he has the temerity to put in legislation completely rewriting the regulation of the businesses he profits from personally.”

Franchot said Kramer’s legislation is “personal.”

“It’s the opposite of good government.”

Kramer pushed back against Franchot yesterday in an extended interview with A Miner Detail.

“I don’t want this to be about him – because it’s not,” Kramer said.

“He [Franchot] wants to make it about himself. The fact of the matter is, I have done a lot of work on issues relating to alcohol and safety and health. I spent seven years being beaten up by the alcohol industry trying to get Noah’s Law passed.”

Kramer directly responded to Franchot’s assertion that he personally profits from the legislation that he introduced on Monday.

“That’s called smoke and mirrors,” Kramer said.

“I would hope that anyone that finds that to be of any interest – and by the way, it is clearly part of my ethics report when I vote on legislation that might have some or the Montgomery County DLC, I go to the ethics council here in the legislature and if ethics council says this is an issue, it’s not an issue, or if ethics council says, let’s find out, let’s ask the ethics committee, I have done that as well.”

“I am very cautious about my participation in alcohol legislation as far as its impact on the Montgomery County Department of Liquor Control.”

Kramer went on to directly address his legislation concerning the regulatory authority of the comptroller’s office.

“It’s just a small piece of what the bill is about, and the bill incorporates what is, I think, historic with regard to now we will be looking far more closely at what role public health and public welfare, public safety play in our decisions about alcohol sales and distribution.”

Kramer pointed out that Maryland is one of three states in the country that “had an elected official with the oversight and regulation and enforcement of the liquor industry, the alcohol industry.”

“47 states don’t do this. So we are putting ourselves into the same posture as 47 other states in this country do where they are trying to separate out the industry from the regulator.”

Asked if Kramer saw Franchot’s press conference or heard about Franchot’s press event, Kramer said he “has not been privy to it” but “heard that he [Franchot] was having temper tantrums on Facebook.”

Kramer said that he has “no animus towards Peter Franchot whatsoever” but Franchot has “clearly taken a page out of the Trump messaging book and is channeling Donald Trump – and that is if somebody disagrees with you, you start calling them names, you start insulting them…”

“At the end of the day, Peter Franchot does not intimidate me.”

Kramer pondered why Franchot “is so desperate to retain his control over alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel.”

“I think it’s readily apparent, but I’ll let others reach their own conclusions. Why is he so desperate to hang on to this golden goose?”

Kramer said that he would “never have any problem sitting down with Peter Franchot” to discuss his legislation.

“By the way, I’ve never attacked Peter Franchot,” Kramer remarked.

Asked if he believes Franchot is running for governor in 2022, Kramer said that he believes Franchot has “desperately wanted to be governor for a very long time” but is “frustrated by the lack of a path to get there.”

“That’s just a political analysis that has nothing to do with this issue. This is also perhaps part of what’s an issue is ‘I don’t get attention as comptroller doing taxes. I don’t get attention. Nobody listens to you or pays attention to me. This is the way I get attention’ and it’s like a kid who will act out because any attention is attention just the same.”

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