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In this volatile political atmosphere, elected officials who take actions contrary to the views of voters are likely to find the electorate unforgiving this November. It is a powerful theme that Republicans have been using to great effect in Washington of late: the perceived gap between public opinion and public policy.

Amazingly, Sen. Joan Carter Conway is pursuing precisely that folly with her recent disclosure that she opposes legislation to allow Marylanders to have bottles of wine shipped directly to their homes. Polls show the public favors the law, and a majority of the General Assembly have signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

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But Senator Conway, chair of the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, is doing far more than opposing the bill; she's taken the unusual step of threatening not to allow the legislation to come up for a committee vote at all.

Such a desk-drawer veto would not only thwart the legislative process (six of nine committee members are among the co-sponsors) but demonstrate a political hubris with which Democrats ought not be comfortable.

The Baltimore senator has said her chief concern is that somehow the proposal would facilitate under-age drinking. She's also suggested that it might be difficult for the state to collect appropriate excise and sales taxes from out-of-state wineries.

But neither claim holds much water, let alone wine. Shipping wine is legal in more than two-thirds of states, where neither concern has materialized as a serious problem.

The under-age drinking claim is particularly nonsensical. Under the proposal, United Parcel Service and FedEx are the only two potential shippers. Both have proven themselves reliable in other states, and their drivers must check photo ID of wine recipients to make sure they are 21 years old – just as any clerk or waitress in a liquor store, bar or restaurant must do.

Surveys have repeatedly shown that minors find it far easier to ask an older friend or relative to buy alcohol for them and it's not usually the kind of boutique wine that ends up bubble-wrapped in shipping boxes. In Maryland, there are approximately 6,300 liquor stores, bars and restaurants where a straw purchase can take place. Why would anyone wait a week for an expensive direct shipment for which they'd need an adult to sign?

Taxes have also not proven to be a serious obstacle in other states. Wineries are only too pleased to pay taxes to the state where a bottle is delivered instead of where it was produced. It's all the same to them.

Certainly, there are more pressing issues before the state legislature this year than making it possible for average people to have wine shipped to them. The recession, falling tax revenues, and projected budget deficits have left many in Annapolis with important, albeit unpopular, choices to make.

But few issues better underscore why voters are suspicious of government in this state: the influence of the liquor lobby, the coziness of regulators with the alcohol industry (Senator Conway's spouse is a longtime Baltimore liquor inspector) and the willingness of leaders to blithely ignore the public's wishes.

Legalizing direct shipment is good for consumers and good for Maryland's wine industry. Such obvious benefits should easily trump the objections of self-interested liquor wholesalers, retailers and even regulators who seek to preserve Maryland's antiquated liquor laws. Woe to any politician who thinks the voters won't notice such a glaring example of arrogance.

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