legal 5.11

I have complained before that I have a day job, and it keeps me way too busy to worry about the success or failure of my neighbors' pursuit of happiness, at least until they start something involving barnyard animals at 2 a.m. (not yet, knock on wood).

I recently had an unhappy experience at work. A client came to me for help with the regulatory hurdles he would have to get over, in order to open a liquor-serving dance bar in Somewhere, Oregon.

I was forced to explain to him that the way is long, dark, and full of pitfalls. The worst of those is that a would-be new bar owner can't even begin the long, paperwork-intensive process with the OLCC until he or she has obtained "local government input." (Calling the process "paperwork-intensive" is like calling farming "manure-intensive.") Then the "local-government input" (a big, red-ink "NO") has to be attached to the bar owner's OLCC application. So before you can even apply for a license you have to get up in front of the Somewhere City Council, explain your business plan, and experience the kind of cross-examination that would make Bill Clinton blush.

My client didn't need the grief. But the experience of reviewing the laws with him reminded me of how much a debt we all owe to those brave strip-bar and bookstore owners who have spent their careers dealing with small-minded regulators, no-brained local government cattle, and a sex-obsessed citizenry that seems like it can't make up its mind whether it wants animated full-frontal pics of Monica Lewinsky on the evening news (Monday, Wednesday and Friday) or hates the very idea of sex (Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays).

My point in all this (what, you thought this was just a rant?) is that reasonable people can get as thirsty for clear thinking as any desert rat ever got for water. So imagine my joy when I read about Glendale, Colorado.

Glendale is a working class area of about 4,000 apartment-dwelling folks, surrounded by Greater Denver. In the daytime the population booms because Glendale has offices and retail shopping malls, and its little power elite apparently has big dreams to match. They badgered "undesirable" businesses (read "bar owners") for years, and the number of licensed premises dropped from 40 or 50 to 3. Those remaining three are (ta-da!) strip clubs. So the Council tried to finish them off by proposing an ordinance that would make business impossibly tough. Then the clubs would close and make way for new development.

But surprise, surprise. The voters, well, revolted. Record numbers of voters turned up at the polls in a recent election and voted for members of the so-called Glendale Tea Party, which was backed by money from the club owners. They campaigned to throw the bums out, and out they went. And now there are three bar-friendly members of the Council, and the proposed restrictions are DOA.

The lesson for the rest of us is clear: if you want to get the pinheads off your back, if you want to live to see the day when opening a strip club isn't any harder to do than opening a restaurant, don't be afraid of the political process. Bar and bookstore owners were greatly relieved when censorship proposals went down in flames at the last two general elections. Maybe, just maybe, those weren't flukes; maybe a lot of the voters believe in letting their neighbors find happiness in their own way. Maybe what's good enough for a small town in Colorado is good enough for the country, too. Maybe I gotta lay off the happy pipe. But a man can dream, can't he?

Brad Woodworth is a partner in Cobb and Woodworth, LLP, a law firm representing adult business interests in Oregon.

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