To be clear, nobody in the state of Idaho has the right to sell beer, wine or liquor by the drink.

This is a place where the state constitution calls upon government to protect “the virtue and sobriety of the people, and the purity of the home” .... and instructs the Legislature to promote “temperance and morality.”

If you’re going to operate a tavern or a bar in the Gem State, you need a license.

And to maintain that privilege, you follow the rules, such as:

l When you can open and when you must close.

l Who you cannot serve — in this case, anyone younger than 21 years of age.

l Who cannot serve drinks — essentially minors.

l The alcohol content of your product. If you have a beer and wine license, you can’t sell spirits.

l Where you get your product — such as the Idaho State Liquor Dispensary.

l Qualifications — anyone seeking a license is subject to a criminal background check and his investors are disclosed.

l Practices — for instance, you can’t serve someone who is obviously intoxicated.

And if the governor of the state orders the bars and taverns closed in the midst of a highly contagious and deadly COVID-19 pandemic, he has more than the law and the state constitution on his side.

There’s the agreement you made when you got a state-issued license.

Break it and you’ll hear from the Alcohol Beverage Control Bureau of the Idaho State Police.

Which is exactly what’s playing out in Kendrick.

About a month before Gov. Brad Little released restrictions on Idaho’s 4,263 beer and wine taverns and 1,135 liquor bars on May 30, the Hardware Brewing Co. opened its doors.

Shy it was not in its defiance.

Brought in to celebrate the occasion were Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin, former Congressman and current GOP Chairman Raul Labrador, state Sen. Dan Johnson, and state Rep. Mike Kingsley, both R-Lewiston.

In all, about two dozen Idaho-licensed operators opened their doors prematurely. ABC notified all of them. Most opted not to put their license at risk and shut down. Five, including Hardware Brewing and Slick’s Bar in Nampa, remained open.

Once the rest of Idaho’s bars and taverns reopened, ABC’s team of 11 troopers and six licensing staffers had the resources to focus on the smaller group that persisted in flouting the rules.

So Hardware’s owners now have a choice: Pay a $2,500 fine or shut down for 45 days.

“We will not accept either and are working with our lawyer,” Morgan Lohman, whose family runs Hardware Brewing, told the Lewiston Tribune’s William L. Spence.

However that legal challenge plays out, you have to wonder what would have happened if the state had looked the other way.

The next time a bartender served an underage customer, even if inadvertently, what would happen?

Say a tavern owner concluded he could not pay the rent unless he extended his operating hours well past 2 a.m. What’s the difference between opening four weeks early and staying open four hours later?

Or for the sake of argument, what about the operator who decides to sell cheaper booze he bought in another state?

Could anything be more arbitrary and capricious — or set a worse precedent — than ignoring a scofflaw who forged an alliance with the lieutenant governor or has appeared on Fox News?

So much for the rule of law.

Such an insight would not be lost on the nearly 5,400 other licensed bar and tavern owners who observed Little’s order, even though they forfeited probably a lot more than $2,500 in lost income during May.

This isn’t about politics.

This is about fairness.

What did Hardware Brewing’s owners expect? — M.T.

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