Rep. Richard Floyd is willing to do most anything to sink a pending bill in the Legislature that expands a 2009 whisky distillery law to Chattanooga as well as other places excluded under the original statute.
But would the Chattanooga Republican and well-known opponent of alcohol really be in cahoots with an established moonshiner already making good ol' corn liquor legally in downtown Gatlinburg?
Floyd says no, but a Knoxville businessman who is fighting to open a new distillery to compete with the existing Ole Smoky Moonshine operation in Gatlinburg questions whether amendments Floyd has filed on the bill side with Ole Smoky.
"It's no coincidence that one of the amendments says that there will be a 1,000 foot separation between the distilleries," said Gatlinburg businessman Ned Vickers, who wants to open his own distiller and notes Ole Smoky has hired lobbyists and sued in court to stop rivals from succeeding.
Vickers' planned Sugarlands Distillery is located less than 1,000 feet from Ole Smoky.
That's ridiculous, Floyd said Thursday night.
"I'm against his [Vickers'] distillery," Floyd said. "I'm against [Ole Smoky] in Gatlinburg. May both of their tribes decrease and go out of business. I could care less about any distillery in this state. All I'm concerned about is Hamilton County, the way they're going to force this in on Hamilton County."
Floyd has three amendments prepared to attack the bill, sponsored by Rep. Joe Carr, R-Lacassas. Another lawmaker, Rep. Jeremy Faison, R-Cosby, has two others. Carr wound up "rolling," that is, delaying the bill from consideration on the House floor earlier on Thursday. It's now scheduled for Monday and that will give everyone time to file amendments, he said.
"Everybody can have the appropriate fruits and vegetables set so everybody can have a food fight," Carr said, laughing. "Everybody wanted their fruits and vegetable and I didn't want to leave anybody out."
He said many of critics' concerns are addressed in one of his amendments.
"I think we're in fine shape," Carr said. "But we'll see. You never know. It's not a prediction. You never know up here. Especially when the food starts flying."
Vickers said two of Floyd's amendments wade into the fight between his proposed distillery, Sugarlands, and the existing Ole Smoky in Gatlinburg.
"It's no coincidence that one of the amendments says that there will be a 1,000 foot separation between the distilleries," Vickers said.
Another Floyd amendment would prevent a distillery from opening up within 500 feet of a building used for religious purposes, a school or a licensed day care center.
Proponents say the bill provides a distance requirement of 1,000 feet and Vickers said his distillery is located about 400 feet from a Gatlinburg church.
Yet a third Floyd amendment prevents distilleries from selling their product or providing free samples or tours on Sundays. The bill currently allows liquor sales from noon to 7 p.m. on Sundays.
"I'm doing everything I can to stop this freight train," Floyd said.
The law excluded Hamilton County from the original 2009 law. Proposed changes would put Hamilton County back in and specifically allow distilleries in cities like Chattanooga, where voters have previously passed liquor by the drink and package liquor store sales.
Owners of Chattanooga Whiskey Co. strongly back the bill. Joe Ledbetter and partner Tim Piersant said they were upset to see Floyd's efforts.
"Why is Floyd helping Gatlinburg, he's from our area,?" asked Ledbetter.
While not directly designed to shut down Chattanooga Whiskey's efforts, the big batch of amendments could make it difficult to pass the bill outright, he said.
Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfree press.com or 615-255-0550.
Andy Sher is a Nashville-based staff writer covering Tennessee state government and politics for the Times Free Press. A Washington correspondent from 1999-2005 for the Times Free Press, Andy previously headed up state Capitol coverage for The Chattanooga Times, worked as a state Capitol reporter for The Nashville Banner and was a contributor to The Tennessee Journal, among other publications. Andy worked for 17 years at The Chattanooga Times covering police, health care, county government, ...
Ellis Smith joined the Chattanooga Times Free Press in January 2010 as a business reporter. His beat includes the flooring industry, Chattem, Unum, Krystal, the automobile market, real estate and technology. Ellis is from Marietta, Ga., and has a bachelor’s degree in mass communication at the University of West Georgia. He previously worked at UTV-13 News, Carrollton, Ga., as a producer; at the The West Georgian, Carrollton, Ga., as editor; and at the Times-Georgian, Carrollton, ...