Peter Schorsch: Raise a toast to disruption in Tallahassee

Life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are the three unalienable rights that the Declaration of Independence says have been given to all of us by the “Creator,” and that governments are created to protect.

Were the Declaration to be updated for the 21st century, could it be amended to include a right to hail an Uber driver to make a run to a local craft brewery to pick up a growler of your favorite IPA?

Or how about the right to stop off at Target or Walmart, instead of a liquor store, for a bottle of Ketel One?

How about a right to have a Lyft driver take you to the beach house you rented on AirBnB?

Obviously these are some very specific, technical rights that Thomas Jefferson and the other Founding Fathers likely would not have envisioned a need to delineate. But these are examples of the disruptive issues that promise to dominate the headlines coming out of the Florida Legislature’s annual session, which begins in March. In fact, a strong argument could be made that two major issues that have already been dominating the political media-sphere – vouchers and medical marijuana – are also about disruption.

Originally an advertising strategy first espoused by France’s Jean Marie Dru and then expanded upon by the TBWA Worldwide ad agencydisruption is about creating new markets by upending existing ones.

According to Clayton Christensen, who wrote the seminal article “Disruptive Technologies: Catching the Wave,” the term disruption is used in business and technology literature to describe innovations that improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, typically first by designing for a different set of consumers in a new market and later by lowering prices in the existing market.

In practical terms, this means an app like Uber improves upon the transportation industry; AirBnB improves upon the hospitality industry; and, not without controversy vouchers improve the education system, while medical marijuana disrupts the health care industry.

Heading into the 2015 legislative session, these are the debates dividing lawmakers and teams of lobbyists. For every lobbyist hired by Lyft and Uber, taxi cab companies do the same.

Disruption is what will drive Florida’s capital.

It has certainly not always been this way. The political food fights that drove Tallahassee were typically about pitting one industry against another, i.e. doctors vs. insurance companies, or about two existing silos of an industry fighting over a piece of lucrative turf; think ophthalmologists vs. optometrists or medical doctors vs. nurse practitioners.

While those traditional scrums still take place, there are new battle lines being drawn by industries that not only did not have a lobbying presence a decade ago – the companies themselves likely did not exist a decade ago.

Many of these disruptive debates will take several years to sort out as lawmakers are just beginning to understand the ramifications of companies like Uber and Google and entering their respective markets.

One disruptive debate that should be solved sooner rather than later is permitting stores like Target and Walmart to sell hard liquor inside their stores rather than the faux stand-alone markets they are forced to build. Allowing this to happen will certainly disrupt the liquor distribution business, and that’s why companies like ABC, as well as mom-and-pop shops don’t like it.

Disruption can almost always be detected when the established parties squeal.

Last week, two Republican state lawmakers submitted new bills to remove Florida’s “wall of separation” between grocery and liquor stores.

House Bill 499, filed by state Rep. John Wood, and Senate Bill 468, filed by state Sen. Denise Grimsley, seek to repeal Florida’s “outdated and inconvenient” separation law.

Retailers and businesses have been calling for the state to modernize its Prohibition-era law, on the books since 1935, which restricts Floridians’ access to alcoholic beverages by requiring liquor sales in a separate location from groceries and other goods.

The thinking went that by requiring Target, Walmart, etc., to sell liquor at a separate location, troublesome teenagers won’t shoplift the hooch. This is the alcohol equivalent of “Reefer Madness.”

Wood, a Winter Haven Republican, believes that removing the “antiquated” separation law not only supports a free market but also allows improved security in alcohol sales.

“There is no denying that there is a higher crime rate among separate liquor stores,” he said. “If passed, this law would enable establishments who want to sell spirits in the same aisle as beer and wine, where even greater security measures are in place.”

What this legislation would really do is “tear down the proverbial wall between spirits and beer and wine,” by giving customers greater choice and convenience. In other words, it would disrupt the entire marketplace by providing new and greater value.

Don’t expect the traditional liquor distributors to like this one bit.

Like from so many other quarters, where the old is being displaced by the new and the outdated is being disrupted by the valuable, expect there to be a lot of squealing.

Peter Schorsch is a new media publisher and political consultant based in St. Petersburg, Fla. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Peter Schorsch

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.


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