Powerful elegance of eight Budweiser Clydesdales and one docile Dalmation captivated hundreds of people Thursday with a slow-moving demonstration of how beer was delivered to consumers when commerce required use of wagons.
Mary and Nick Elkins, of Harveyville, had an unusually high level of appreciation for the well-manicured team pulling the bright red wagon. They own three Clydesdales, including 12-year-old Catalina.
"Very, very lovable," Mary Elkins said. "It's wonderful."
Anheuser-Busch brought the iconic team to the Capitol for presentation to House Speaker Ron Ryckman, R-Olathe, of a horseshoe-decorated plaque noting the April 1 transition in Kansas to a law allowing grocery and convenience stores to sell beer with more bite than out-of-fashion 3.2 percent beer. Liquor stores retained control of wine and spirit sales, but large corporations moved into the marketing of beer with an alcohol content of up to 6 percent by volume.
In 2017, Ryckman was among lawmakers credited with compelling rival business interests to work out a compromise to unhitch Kansas from a law limiting non-liquor stores to sale of weak beer.
"The way politics should work," said Simon Wuestenberg, Midwest region vice president for Anheuser-Busch. "Speaker Ryckman and the legislators took it from there, formulating a bill that achieved the goal of enhanced convenience for Kansas, that creates opportunities for businesses in Kansas and it will fuel growth of the beer industry."
Kansas has avoided rush to judgment whenever contemplating liberalization of liquor laws. In 1933, Clydesdales were used to deliver beer to President Franklin Roosevelt at close of Prohibition. Kansas held tight to the liquor ban until 1946.
To this day, 22 counties in Kansas have one liquor store, and 22 other counties in the state have two.
Most states bailed out of the 3.2 beer business years ago. Kansas was unrelenting, in part because mom-and-pop liquor stores didn't want grocery stores to gain a foothold in the trade of strong beer, liquor and wine.
R.E. "Tuck" Duncan, who lobbies for the Kansas Wine and Spirits Wholesaler Association, spent a decade fighting off legislative challenges financed by Dillons, Walmart and other companies. The writing was on the wall when Oklahoma and Colorado moved to step away from 3.2 beer, because brewers such as Anheuser-Busch would lose interest in meeting that waning demand.
He said making all Kansas convenience and grocery stores into liquor stores would drive out many of the state's 750 independent liquor retailers. The deal struck among lobbyists and approved by the Legislature two years ago limited the breach to strong beer, leaving in place a law limiting sales of wine and spirits.
"At the end of the day, compromise was not a dirty word," Duncan said.
Senate Minority Leader Anthony Hensley, D-Topeka, said he remained apprehensive about welfare of small liquor stores in Kansas. Marketing and purchasing advantages of corporations may derail liquor stores despite limiting the reform, he said.
Ryckman told the crowd of hundreds on the south steps of the Capitol that his parents taught him the best solutions to challenges could be resolved by people hashing things out.
"I commend the business industry for taking that same approach with this legislation. We need more of that in our state," he said, offering a dry toast. "Here's to team work. Here's to the future of Kansas."