Democrats Want Legislature to Address Drinking Age

By Beacon Staff

MILES CITY – Montana Democrats adopted a resolution Saturday calling for legislation to address the “double standard” of letting 18-year-olds fight in wars, but not legally drink alcohol.

“It simply acknowledges there’s a contradiction and it wouldn’t be fair to ignore,” said Denver Henderson, the 26-year-old Democratic state committee member from Missoula who authored the resolution.

Party Chairman Dennis McDonald acknowledged the resolution would likely concern some voters and said it did not reflect a consensus within the party. It passed on a 25-20 vote at the end of the party’s two-day platform convention in Miles City.

Unlike an earlier version rejected by party leaders, the adopted resolution did not explicitly call for lowering the drinking age.

Supporters of the resolution said it was unfair to send 18-year-olds to war but deny them the right to drink beer.

Some complained law enforcement agencies expend excessive resources chasing down underage drinkers and could better allocate those resources elsewhere. Also, those enforcement efforts appear to have had little effect in dissuading youths from drinking, said Pat Mischel, a Democrat from Dawson County.

Others in the party warned the proposal could alienate voters and bring loss of critical federal funds. In the 1980s, the federal government threatened to withhold highway money from states that did not adopt 21 as the drinking age.

“There’s a trade-off. It would cause us to forgo substantial funding,” state Sen. Dave Wanzenried of Missoula said.

Montana’s legal drinking age has been 21 for at least two decades, according to the office of Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

McDonald lamented that the drinking-age debate distracted from other parts of his party’s platform, including several items supporting unions and workers’ rights.

“The party adopted a resolution that I’m sure will be of concern to many Montanans,” McDonald said. “But it’s a big tent and we respect a wide variety of points of view.”