BOISE • A grocery-industry lobbying group won't push a liquor privatization ballot measure in 2012, but a second group emerged Monday and announced it will try to get an initiative before Idaho voters in November.
The Idaho Federation of Reagan Republicans submitted a citizen's initiative to the secretary of state's office that would privatize liquor sales in Idaho and eliminate the state Liquor Division.
Liquor sales in Idaho are now conducted through state-run or contract stores.
In his group's push to change that, Reagan Republicans president Jeff Ward of Post Falls said his members intentionally avoided ties to trade groups or retailers. They want a measure focused on scaling back government, not one designed to make millions in profits for private industry, he said.
``It was important to us that this initiative is written in regards to the proper role of government, not who would benefit by the privatization of liquor sales,'' said Ward.
To do it, his group will have to collect 47,432 signatures of registered voters by April 30, meaning success will likely require a well-funded, committed campaign of paid signature gatherers.
Meanwhile, the Northwest Grocery Association, which said earlier this month it was exploring a similar ballot measure, now plans to hold off until at least the 2013 Legislature.
Then, it hopes to convince enough lawmakers to back a bill to privatize liquor sales in Idaho, rather than gathering signatures for a popular vote.
``We don't want to have the perception that we're somehow end-running the governor and the Legislature,'' said grocery lobbyist Roy Eiguren, adding his group decided it didn't have enough time to get a ballot measure ready before the April 30 deadline.
Should the grocery industry fail to win support from the House and Senate next year, it could still gather signatures for an initiative on the 2014 November general election ballot.
There's been a lot of attention focused on privatizing liquor sales in the region.
About 60 percent of Washington state voters voted in November to privatize sales and dismantle controls by allowing stores larger than 10,000 square feet to sell liquor. Costco Wholesale Corp. committed $22 million to the campaign, the most-expensive in that state's history.
Idaho, its neighbor to the east, remains one of 18 states that still have broad control over liquor distribution, a historical legacy with roots back to the repeal of prohibition in the 1930s.
But convincing Idaho lawmakers to privatize the industry will be no small challenge, especially since Gov. C.L. ``Butch'' Otter - normally a proponent of limiting government's role in the private sector - said as recently as two weeks ago that he didn't think Idaho was an environment where such a privatization push would find a soft landing.
That's in part because of provisions in Idaho's 1890 Constitution mandating that ``the first concern of all good government is the virtue and sobriety of the people.''
Democratic House Minority Leader John Rusche, of Lewiston, said his caucus hasn't taken an official stand on privatization.
But he isn't opposed to allowing the private sector to take over - under certain conditions.
``I think that as long as we have good revenue - and recognize the costs of alcohol treatment and recovery - it doesn't matter to me whether it's done through taxation or running a department,'' Rusche said.
Idaho posted a $50.1 million profit from liquor sales in fiscal year 2011 that ended last July, as people paid more per bottle and the Liquor Division trimmed staff.