Peak Ad Hominem

As attentive readers of this establishment know, there’s a big fight going on over the issue of alcohol distribution in Montgomery County. The chief advocate for change has been Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is advocating for a bill to open up the County’s monopoly on alcohol distribution. Among the many opponents of such a change is MCGEO, the union representing the Department of Liquor Control’s over 300 unionized employees.

There are arguments on both sides of the issue - I’m squarely on the side of retaining the current system, with modifications to allow for private distributors to be part of the special order process. The County Council, the County Council, the union, and others agree. On the other side are several state legislators and the Comptroller who are pushing different versions of a privatization bill in the state legislature, as well as some restaurant and bar owners.

Peter Franchot’s chief of staff, Len Foxwell, decided yesterday that he wasn’t interested in a debate on the issues. He launched an attack on Gino Renne, the head of MCGEO, regarding an incident from more than five years ago that had and has no bearing whatsoever on the alcohol issue.


Ad hominem

An ad hominem (Latin for “to the man” or “to the person”, short for argumentum ad hominem, is an attack on an argument made by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, rather than attacking the argument directly. When used inappropriately, it is a logical fallacy in which a claim or argument is dismissed on the basis of some irrelevant fact or supposition about the author or the person being criticized.

Foxwell’s Facebook post is one of the purest forms of ad hominem attack that I’ve seen in many years of state and county politics.

Let’s note that Foxwell isn’t some guy on the street - he’s Peter Franchot’s chief of staff. So this was an attack authorized by one of Maryland’s four statewide elected officials on the leader of a union who represents more than 300 workers with a personal stake in the outcome of this debate. Foxwell thinks it’s OK to marginalize the interests of workers with good jobs and good pay by scoring cheap and irrelevant political points. Moreover, he clearly believes that discussing the merits of the issue isn’t as important as a good ad hominem assault.

Not sure if Foxwell is a lawyer or not, but I am, and I recognize a guy with a bad argument - and who knows it - when I see one. Old trial lawyer saying: “When the facts are on your side, pound the facts. When the law is on your side, pound the law. And when neither one is on your side, pound the table.”

Len Foxwell pounded the table yesterday. Remember that when you’re told what a great idea alcohol privatization is. If the primary proponent of an idea abandons the merits of that idea when the conversation has barely begun, that ought to tell you something.

4 thoughts on “Peak Ad Hominem

  1. Gilbert (@Granolapark)

    A “bad argument?” The argument for privatization is won every time I have to spend $6 or more for a draft or $12 or more for a six-pack of limited-selection beer, or hear “we’d love to stock the beer or wine you’re looking for, but we can’t get it from the county distributor.”

    Considering that, it’s particularly rankling that your argument against privatization is protecting the “good jobs with good pay” that perpetuates high prices, poor selection, and limited retail outlets - all paid for by MY taxes.

    1. Jonathan Post author

      At least you’re discussing the merits, which is more than can be said for the advocates on the issue. So let’s discuss the merits.

      How would you propose to replace the $35 million in profit that the county alcohol regime currently generates? YOUR taxes are going up if it’s done away with.

      And don’t say “well, if we have a better system we’d sell even more liquor and the county would be better off” because that’s not true either. The county gets precisely ZERO out of the alcohol tax, which is a solely state level tax. And if you think Larry Hogan - not to mention the rest of the state - is going to give up revenue for Montgomery County, you’re not as smart as I know you are.

      In addition, the annual revenue from liquor is used to issue bonds that have been used to build infrastructure. Take away the revenue and those bonds (about $114 million) will have to be paid off and then reissued as general obligations of the county, crowding out other capital needs, of which there are many.

      Did you also know that the county’s liquor prices are cheaper than the ones that would be in force if the monopoly is eliminated? Private distributors aren’t free to set their own prices in the rest of the state. They’re regulated. So cheap hooch will not be in our future.

      Moreover, there won’t be “competition” - under state law, only one distributor can provide a particular product in a specific area.

      That’s enough for now - the fact is that your taxes will go up, not down, if this scheme proceeds. The only beneficiaries are going to be big liquor companies, who’ve been salivating at the prospects of the MoCo market for years.

      And you may have a philosophical objection to good government jobs, but those jobs don’t cost you in taxes. Just the opposite. The alcohol monopoly generates $270 million in revenue and throws off $35 million in profit AFTER paying for all those jobs you hate, which is a pretty solid business in my book. Find me another jobs program that not only doesn’t cost, but actually PAYS. You can’t.

      Virtually none of the above is ever discussed by privatization proponents, which explains precisely why Len Foxwell changed the subject and went ad hominem on Gino Renne. Because the privatization argument on the merits is a loser.

  2. Gilbert (@Granolapark)

    Fine, they can raise my income taxes - which is the honest way to do it. But, instead of doing it the fair way, our cowardly politicians impose fees and sin taxes and legalize gambling - all regressive forms of taxation. Just so they can say they haven’t raised income taxes.

    Sorry, but I just don’t believe you when you say prices will stay high if the county gets out of the liquor business. Beer and other liquor is cheaper just across New Hampshire Avenue in Prince Geo’s County - and I don’t have to go to a county store to buy it.

    If the prices are high, I’ll just continue to buy my liquor in DC as do now. If the county and state want my liquor tax, they’ll have to be competitive. I don’t know any MoCo residents who buy booze in MoCo.

    You don’t address how the Soviet-style county system restricts and discourages choices. I’m not concerned whether the big liquor companies will benefit by privatization, I DO care that the little breweries - and their customers - will benefit.

    I was at a beer and wine store last month looking at half-filled beer shelves and a fretting manager. The county was supposed to have delivered all the beer that day - but they showed up with only half. The rest would come whenever they deigned to deliver it. That’s the service stores and consumers are getting from these union workers with their tax-funded well-paid jobs.

  3. Amy Millar

    Multiple studies have shown that the majority of alcohol is cheaper in Montgomery County than surrounding jurisdictions. Obviously, private bars and restaurants can up charge whatever they want / the market allows in the case of the cost of a draft beer.


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