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Minnesota Survives A Cold Near-Beer Experience

The Ugly Mug restaurant and bar in Minneapolis displays a few of its MillerCoors products.
Jim Mone
The Ugly Mug restaurant and bar in Minneapolis displays a few of its MillerCoors products.

Cold beer is on tap in Minnesota this weekend. But it was almost the casualty of the two-week shutdown of the state government that may have come to an end.

MillerCoors, which holds "brand label registrations" for 39 beers, including Miller, Coors, Blue Moon Pale and Hamm's — almost 40 percent of the beer sold in Minnesota — sent in its renewal notice on June 15.

But the state Alcohol and Gambling Enforcement Agency said that MillerCoors overpaid its registration fees and refused to stamp the paperwork.

MillerCoors sent another check immediately. Julian Green, director of media relations for MillerCoors, pointed out that beer is its business. "We don't take securing our licenses lightly."

But the state agency didn't process the check by the time the state government shut down on June 30. Its employees were shut out. Hundreds of taverns and restaurants also worried that they could not sell alcohol because their license renewals were just piling up like wet coasters in state offices.

By the way, those who wanted to make a special, urgent appeal for relief could take their case to a court-appointed Special Master: former state Supreme Court Chief Justice Kathleen Blatz.

Would Judge Blatz rule in favor of MillerCoors?

We might be able to see, in Minnesota's near-beer disappearance experience, some of the complicated thoughts that Americans can have about governments at all levels.

People get mad at what they consider the foolishness of bureaucracy. MillerCoors had sent two checks. The state government didn't cash either of them, on a technicality that is difficult to figure from outside officialdom. So the company couldn't sell beer, the government got no money, and citizens of Minnesota almost got thirsty.

This kind of narrow bureaucratic decision can drive people to say they don't care if a government shuts down. But then if it does, they get mad that the government isn't there to help them.

Late this week — just in time for the Twins to open against the Kansas City Royals at Target Field — Gov. Mark Dayton and Republican statehouse leaders reached a deal to end the shutdown.

Democrats agreed not to raise taxes, although the governor had campaigned on a pledge to increase state revenues. Republicans agreed to abandon plans to ban state aid for stem cell research, and cut the state workforce by 15 percent. And critics complain that the compromise just defers problems for a few short years.

"Nobody is going to be happy with this," said the governor, "which is the essence of real compromise."

Twenty-two-thousand state workers who were laid off during the shutdown may soon be able to return to work. I think I know how they might celebrate:

In heaven there is no beer.
That's why we drink it here (right here!)
When we're gone from here,
all our friends will be drinking all our beer!

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Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.