The Oregon Liquor Commission (OLCC) has been a thorn in the side of barflies, strippers, and musicians for decades. A few months ago, for example, the OLCC shut down a Beaverton strip club after it was discovered that 18- and 19-year-olds were dancing there, violating a new OLCC rule prohibiting underage performers from any venue serving alcohol.

With such unmitigated power over so many people's recreational lives, it should come as no surprise that no fewer than four legislative bills have been introduced in Salem this session--each designed to curtail or shut down the state agency.

Created in 1930s post-Prohibition era, the OLCC was meant to discourage bootleggers from controlling the liquor industry. But since then, say critics, the OLCC has become a puritanical force that polices its own vision of morals and unduly drives up alcohol prices throughout the state. The agency ships liquor to stores at a 106 percent markup, with no tolerance for competitive pricing.

Unsurprisingly, the OLCC opposes the pending measures. Ken Palke, communication director for the OLCC says, "We feel research has indicated that states that don't have a control system have higher rates of drunkenness problems."

In spite of widespread support to dissolve the OLCC, Rep. Deborah Kafoury (D-Portland) doubts that any of the bills will survive. She says the OLCC provides a paycheck that the state's strapped budget can't live without.


Possibly in better financial times, if we had plenty of money for education, health care, and public safety, that's the time to talk about restructuring the OLCC. But when we're looking under the couch cushion for quarters, I don't think we're willing to turn our backs on the millions of dollars we get from the OLCC," she said.