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Booze Blues

The politics of liquor stores in Pennsylvania.

Mar 25, 2013, Vol. 18, No. 27 • By FRED BARNES
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He’s fought Obama-care on his own. He doesn’t need the legislature. It’s controlled by Republicans—27-23 in the Senate, 109-93 in the House—but is neither reliably conservative nor chummy with Corbett. He was elected governor on the strength of his prosecution, as AG, of legislative corruption. It led to more than two dozen convictions or guilty pleas (more Democrats than Republicans).

His ties to the legislature suffered. And his political skills need improvement. “He hasn’t shown a capacity to wheel and deal,” says Vickers. To get liquor privatization, he may have to.

The Liquor Control Board has nearly 6,000 unionized employees, and unions are a powerful force in Pennsylvania with considerable experience in combat with Republican governors. Corbett can’t count on united GOP support. “All the Democrats are owned [by the unions], and they rent enough Republicans,” says Matthew Brouillette, president of the Commonwealth Foundation. Corbett was already blocked when he clumsily sought to privatize the state lottery (170 employees).

He also has a lingering Penn State problem. In the PPP poll, 58 percent disapproved of “how Tom Corbett has handled the Penn State situation over the last few years.” Twenty-five percent approved. He was on the university’s board of trustees when football coach Joe Paterno was fired—an unpopular move. And his Democratic successor as attorney general, Kathleen Kane, is probing whether, as AG, he slowed the investigation of child molester Jerry Sandusky, Paterno’s assistant, to keep the case from hurting his campaign for governor. There’s no evidence he did.

In a press release promoting its poll, PPP labeled Corbett “a massive underdog for a second term.” In truth, he has an even chance of reelection. His possible Democratic opponents are mostly unknown statewide. Congresswoman Allyson Schwartz, who’s all but certain to run, is an ardent liberal. Outside the Philadelphia area, “I don’t know what her selling point is,” says Ray Zaborney, a Republican consultant and ally of Corbett.

The Corbett reelection campaign, much like Rendell’s, is expected to begin this spring, a year and a half before the election. Money won’t be a problem. At the end of 2012, Corbett had $3.5 million in the bank, easily enough for him to begin telling his story on TV. “Tom has been able to do what Washington hasn’t been able to do,” Zaborney says—that is, cut spending. “He’s very committed to a balanced budget and not raising taxes.”

At 35 percent, his deserves-to-be-reelected number is low. But Rendell’s was 38 percent in April 2006 and he won handily in November. The electorate in the 2014 midterm is certain to be more Republican and conservative than in 2012. And history is on Corbett’s side. Since Milton Shapp in 1974, every governor who has sought reelection has won a second term.

Though President Obama won there 52-47 percent last year, Pennsylvania is not a blue state. The congressional delegation is 13-5 Republican. Corbett isn’t the only conservative to have won statewide. Rick Santorum won two Senate races. Pat Toomey won a Senate seat in 2010.

Corbett doesn’t hide his conservatism. Brouillette of the Commonwealth Foundation says Corbett “is probably the most conservative governor Pennsylvania has ever had.” I asked the governor if indeed he is. “Probably,” he said.

Fred Barnes is executive editor of The Weekly Standard.

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