Maine Craft Brewer Elected State Rep as BA Encourages Members to Run for Office

Austin Ray

THE GIST
Rising Tide Brewing co-owner Heather Sanborn was elected last week to serve the people of Maine’s 43rd district in the state’s House of Representatives. The Brewers Association, the craft beer industry’s largest representative trade group, acknowledged Sanborn’s victory, and in the process vocalized its hope that other craft brewers run for elected office in the future. 

“Legislators decide on issues that directly impact brewers such as taxes, tasting room sales, depreciation costs, and more,” wrote Katie Marisic, the BA’s federal affairs manager, in a congratulatory note posted to its website. “It’s about time craft brewers have one of their own working on the inside. Cheers to Heather! Here’s hoping that more craft brewers will follow in her footsteps.”

WHY IT MATTERS
I know nothing about the platform Sanborn ran on, so I can’t say with any confidence that changing the state’s beer laws was a selling point of hers. People aren’t one-dimensional, so I’m sure she cares about more than merely the health of her state’s beer industry anyway. However, we wrote just last week about how many in the beer industry are clearly done waiting for beer-pertinent legislative change. They’re getting creative in some cases to find workarounds to onerous laws, and getting litigious in others in efforts to just plow through them. And now, the BA is encouraging its members to get proactively political in the most direct way imaginable.

“As an association, we have been working hard to expand our political footprint at the state and federal levels through grassroots and political activism,” Marisic’s note continues. “The next logical step is to encourage brewery owners and employees to run for office.”

It would probably be a stretch to call this a direct call to action. It’s more of a friendly nudge. No less, brewers have for years been fighting for legislative change on the streets, on both the state and federal level, to varying degrees of success. And in this election cycle alone, there were myriad states that had ballot measures pertaining to the regulation of booze up for vote. As such, it’s obviously important to have people in office that understand the nuances of the relationship between beer and government. 

(For what it’s worth, before being elected governor of Colorado in 2014, and before serving as mayor of Denver from 2003 until 2011, John Hickenlooper helped co-found Wynkoop Brewing. We don’t need to tell you how vibrant the craft beer industry is in Colorado.) 
 
The problem, though, is that in many cases, the people running things plainly don’t understand it. There is still ample fear mongering to go around. Politicians are still accepting hearty donations from parties whose own interests are antithetical to the interests of craft brewers. We have seen now, unequivocally, that merely explaining what’s wrong with certain laws is ineffective in some places. The moral of this story, then, should be taken to heart primarily by lawmakers that have proven unwilling to negotiate with the craft beer industry: Either listen or don’t be surprised when a craft brewer comes for your job.
 
—Dave Eisenberg
 
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Craft Beer Politics: Election Results [Brewers Association]