A liquor law compromise, by any other name…

Kitty Kon of Robinson browses the selection of wines at the Settler's Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016.  Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Kitty Kon of Robinson browses the selection of wines at the Settler’s Ridge Market District on Friday, Aug. 19, 2016. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review

BY KARI ANDREN  kandren@tribweb.com

In politics as in life, words are powerful.

How politicians or advocates phrase a pitch to voters can decidedly color how that idea is perceived. Consider, for example, the connotation of “gun control” versus “violence prevention” or “pro-abortion” versus “pro-choice.”

In Pennsylvania, we parse words over an issue near and dear to residents’ hearts:  booze.

In June, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a law that expands wine sales to grocery stores, allows state stores to be open longer hours and customers to get wine shipped to their doors as well as a host of other changes.

Act 39 is hailed by virtually all sides as the Great Liquor Compromise.

But if you look carefully, Republicans – who typically support fully turning over alcohol sales to private businesses – call Act 39 “privatization.”

Meanwhile Democrats, who tend to support state stores for the millions of dollars they pump into state coffers and thousands of union jobs they provide, proclaim Act 39 as “modernizing” state liquor laws.

A few examples from the last week:

“After more than 80 years of full government control, the Prohibition Era has ended and the Privatization Era has begun,” trumpeted House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, as the first grocery store wine sales launched in Robinson.

“We call it privatization — or at least steps toward privatization,” said Jenn Kocher, spokeswoman for Senate Republicans. “We understand it’s not a total accomplishment, but it’s something where we wanted to take steps in the right direction.”

Wolf, a Democrat, cheered the new law: “This historic liquor reform package … enhances the customer experience by providing Pennsylvanians with greater convenience and satisfaction.”

And Rep. Mike Hanna, D-Centre County, said: “I know many of my constituents are happy with the liquor modernization efforts that have recently taken effect.”

So who’s right?

Well, everyone.

The new law does allow a private business, like a grocery store or restaurant, to sell bottles of wine directly to the consumer for the first time. That’s at least a modicum of privatization.

On the other hand, those businesses have to buy the wine from the state Liquor Control Board. And state stores aren’t going anywhere; in fact, they will be open longer and more days a week. Those changes are part of modernization proposals bandied about for years.

“I think it’s more than semantics,” said Gerald Shuster, professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh. “In both cases, it fits right into the political philosophies of both parties.”

The word choice reinforces to constituents what each side was fighting for in the compromise, Shuster said.

“They both claim victory without selling out and without being critical of the other side,” he said.

As for the agency tasked with rolling out the new law?

“It’s a debate,” Board member Michael Negra told WHTM-TV reporter Dennis Owens when asked recently.

“We’re not going to get into the political fray,” said LCB spokeswoman Elizabeth Brassell. “We are implementing Act 39 as it was enacted.”

This story was first posted at 10:30 a.m. Thursday, August 25 2016

Marco Rubio to make second Pittsburgh visit Valentines Day

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks to Republican activists and elected officials in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel in October 2015. (Salena Zito photo)
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks to Republican activists and elected officials in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel in October 2015. (Salena Zito photo)

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

With all of the national accolades Pittsburgh has received as a destination for sophisticated travelers, is it any wonder that Marco Rubio will spend Valentine’s Day in the Burgh?

If only.

It’s doubtful the Florida senator and Republican presidential hopeful will visit any of the city’s hot spots or trendy eateries; instead, he will be fundraising at the private home of Jeff and Patty Keandall, formerly with Liberty Tire.

Allegheny County party chair Jim Roddey – who is helping organize the event with GOP strategist Mike DeVanney, a partner with Cold Spark Media – expects Rubio to raise north of $200,000, with between 50-60 folks expected to attend.

This marks the second time Rubio has fundraised in Pittsburgh. Rubio held a fundraiser in Pittsburgh in October, also chaired by DeVanney. That event – held after Rubio spoke at House Speaker Mike Turzai’s Leadership fundraiser  – put his one-week Pennsylvania haul close to $600,000 after two earlier events in Philadelphia.

Speaker Turzai, who endorsed Rubio October, also serves as co-host for the Valentine’s Day event.

“A Sunday night on Valentine’s Day is not the ideal day to hold an event, so I am happy with the turnout,” said DeVanney. “It shows that even with his rough showing in New Hampshire he holds great interest.”

Marco Rubio’s got game in Pennsylvania

U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks to Republican activists and elected officials in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel in October 2015. (Salena Zito photo)
U.S. Senator Marco Rubio speaks to Republican activists and elected officials in Pittsburgh at the William Penn Hotel in October 2015. (Salena Zito photo)

BY SALENA ZITO  szito@tribweb.com

Marco Rubio, the U.S. Senator and Republican presidential candidate from Florida, racked up yet another endorsement today in Pittsburgh: this time it was Allegheny County party chair Jim Roddey, who called the GOP hopeful a “stand out” among the Republican contenders.

UPDATE: On Wednesday, Feb. 3, a Republican close to the Pat Toomey campaign told the Trib the Republican U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania will soon endorse Rubio as well.

“Rubio is a leader with the greatest understanding of how to meet the challenges of the world economy while putting American workers first,” said Roddey, calling him an  “exciting, commonsense conservative who can unite our party and win in November.”

Roddey is the chair the county that has the highest number of registered Republicans in Pennsylvania.

While everyone is focusing on events in Iowa at the moment, Pennsylvania could possibly play a role as a king maker: the Keystone State’s primary isn’t held until April 26, after a series of crowded southern contests that could split the raw votes and delegates two or three ways without a clear winner.

Rubio’s Pennsylvania campaign started last June; it boasts a network of more than 400 volunteers and consistently engages them with debate parties all over the state for each debate.

Rubio headlined the Speaker’s Leadership fundraiser last fall at the William Penn Hotel, raising cash for state house speaker Mike Turzai’s fund that distributes cash to Republican house candidates so they can hold the majority in the lower chamber.

Turzai said it was the largest event he had held to date for the annual fundraiser and pointed to Rubio for the bigger-than-usual draw.

Rubio told the Trib at the time that he was “thrilled” to receive Turzai’s endorsement and to earn more supporters to his side.

Well, he has. Here is the list to date:

Sen. Ryan Aument

Sen. Guy Reschenthaler

Rep. Jim Christiana

Rep. Stan Saylor

Rep. Jesse Topper

Dauphin County Commissioner Jeff Haste

Allegheny County Councilman Tom Baker

They also have 200 additional volunteers door knocking and circulating petitions to get Rubio on the ballot and 10 “Students for Rubio” Chapters throughout the state with close to an additional 200 student volunteers.

The last time Pennsylvania was still in the game for a Republican primary was 1980, when GOP voters picked George H.W. Bush over eventual nominee Ronald Reagan.

Could Montel Williams become PA’s next outside money heavyweight?

montel williams cropBY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

Today in “Sentences We Never Thought We’d Type,” here is this:

Montel Williams is threatening election challenges to Pennsylvania lawmakers over a pending vote on medical marijuana legalization.

The celebrity, who has multiple sclerosis and uses marijuana as a treatment, earlier this year partnered with advocates in Harrisburg in their fight to get marijuana legalized for medical purposes in Pennsylvania.

Since a key House committee moved the legislation forward, Williams and his team released a statement saying they’ll advertise against lawmakers who oppose marijuana legalization.

The statement particularly calls out GOP lawmakers, and calls on those who believe in legalization to prevent limiting amendments, such as a cap on THC quantities:

Mr. Williams and his partners are prepared to commit significant resources in the next cycle to mount and finance primary (and general) election challenges against members who don’t stand up for sick and suffering Pennsylvanians by passing REASONABLE legislation based in science.

We are further prepared to commit resources to television and radio advertisements to make sure voters know which legislators were willing to stand with those sick and suffering.  Naturally the converse is true, along with our partners and a diverse grassroots coalition of Pennsylvanians, we will stand behind those members of the House GOP caucus who show political courage.

With the Republican party possibly still reeling from its Election Day smackdown on the Supreme Court, and legislators continuing to fight for their policy priorities with the Wolf administration in an ongoing budget battle, hearing about possible challenges and expensive campaigns over this issue might not be taken lightly. Or, perhaps they’ll see the Emmy-winning talk show host as all talk.

Proving that Williams is paying attention to all the headlines related to this issue, his released ended on a snarky note – in reference to a PennLive.com story about Republican Speaker of the House Mike Turzai, R-Marshall, getting over-emotional in a caucus meeting on the topic, it said:

“Speaker Turzai there is no need for tears when meeting the needs of sick and suffering Pennsylvanians.”

Givers and takers in the PA Supreme Court race

BY MELISSA DANIELS  mdaniels@tribweb.com

Tuesday is Election Day, when voters will fill three open seats on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court

Just because judicial candidates have their own special set of rules to follow doesn’t mean the race avoids all the quandaries of elections in general.

Since Pennsylvania elects its judges, they have to run campaigns. Since they have to run campaigns, they must raise money. And then you wind up with this sort of situation, as reported by Peter Jackson of the Associated Press, in which sitting elected officials are giving to judicial candidates:

In the Legislature, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati’s political committee recently funneled $100,000 through the PA Future Fund, a political committee led by GOP National Committeeman Bob Asher, to help the Republican candidates for the Supreme Court and the two intermediate appellate courts.

Scarnati, R-Jefferson, said he filtered his contribution through Asher’s committee because it seemed ‘little bit more of an ethical way’ to do it than simply writing checks to the candidates, Superior Court Judge Judy Olson, Commonwealth Court Judge Anne Covey and Adams County Judge Mike George.

House Speaker Mike Turzai, R-Allegheny, has reported contributions totaling $65,000 to Olson’s campaign.

As we wrote last year, judges are advised to consider stepping aside from cases in which a party in front of them has given money in an amount that might give the wrong impression.

Keep in mind the Supreme Court is the state’s interpreter of the constitution – it has the final say on state laws that are challenged, and thus the power to overturn them.  That includes laws passed by Scarnati, Turzai, etc.

It’s not just the Republican side where we see power brokers supporting the judicial candidates who may have a say in cases central to their causes. On the other side of the aisle, Democratic candidates have been hauling in cash from unions and trial lawyers. The latest round of campaign finance reports showed Superior Court Judge Christine Donohue received $575,000 from Committee for a Better Tomorrow, which is a political arm for Philadelphia trial lawyers. The PAC also gave $450,000 to Superior Court Judge David Wecht and $500,000 Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Kevin Dougherty.

Democrats throughout the race also received substantial report from unions, a potential party that could come before them in cases regarding pensions or collective bargaining.

For more at what’s at stake this year, check out more coverage on triblive.com