There are worse places to be stood up than a distillery.
On May 21, the Johnston County Association of Chambers of Commerce organized a reception for state lawmakers at Broadslab Distillery. The group invited Johnston’s six members of the N.C. General Assembly, and it encouraged the public to come ready to lobby for legislation that affects their lives and livelihoods.
But for various reasons, none of the lawmakers made it to the party.
Despite the disappointment, the 60 or so attendees did not let their Thursday night go to waste. The gathering easily evolved into a networking event, as guests made small talk over heavy hors d’oeuvres and washed them down with generous samples of Broadslab spirits. The lemonade, which came spiked with either moonshine or spiced rum, proved particularly popular.
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That interaction meant the night was still productive, Broadslab owner Jeremy Norris said, but not in the way he had planned. Norris had hoped to gin up support in Raleigh for a bill that would allow distilleries to sell tourists one bottle of liquor per year. Under current law, distilleries may provide samples of their products to visitors, but they have to send any would-be customers to the nearest ABC store.
Norris said he understood that lawmakers have busy schedules in Raleigh; he has been keeping an eye on the General Assembly since February, when the distillery sales bill was introduced. Recently, he said, many legislative sessions have not adjourned until after 7 p.m.
“It would have been nice if they could have been here, but they’re probably getting laws passed,” he said.
Norris’ hunch proved correct for Johnston’s three members of N.C. House of Representatives: James Langdon, Leo Daughtry and William Brisson.
On the night of the reception, the House spent more than nine hours debating and passing a $22 billion budget bill. The final vote, which garnered an exceptionally bipartisan majority of 93-23, came at 1:15 a.m. Friday.
Daughtry and Brisson attended the marathon session and voted to approve the spending plan. Langdon was recovering from a medical procedure and could not attend, spokesman Tom Goffe said.
Among Johnston’s three state senators invited to Broadslab, Buck Newton and Ronald Rabin had prior engagements, and Brent Jackson got tied up at his legislative office in Raleigh.
Rabin attended the Johnston County Republican Women meeting, which took place in Clayton at the same time, spokeswoman Sheri Hood said. Newton’s office did not specify where the senator went that night. Jackson had a long conference call that ran until after 6 p.m., spokesman Ross Barnhardt said, and he had invitations to four events that night.
While none of them attended in person, Johnston’s representatives in Washington made a better showing than those in Raleigh. Sen. Richard Burr, Sen. Thom Tillis and Rep. David Rouzer each sent representatives to the event, but they got little response from the crowd.
Betty Jo Shepheard said she got one opinion on tax reform that she would pass along to Burr. Austen Shearer, who represented Tillis, said the event mostly gave her a chance to see Benson for the first time.
More politicians might have shown up to Broadslab if the attendance list included some large political donors, said Mark Wallace, who works for BelFlex Staffing Network of Clayton. Their absence definitely disappointed everybody, Wallace said, but it did not ruin the night.
“I don’t think anybody went away mad or anything like that,” he said.