Three Strikes and You're Out?

Why Three Republican Governors Failed to Privatize Pennsylvania's State Liquor Monopoly


  • George Hale



After the repeal of Prohibition in 1933, Pennsylvania adopted one of the nation's strongest governmental monopolies for the sale of wine and spirits. Since 1980, three Republican governors--Dick Thornburgh, Tom Ridge, and Tom Corbett--have tried to privatize the state's monopoly. Despite supportfrom more than 60% of the public, they failed. James Q. Wilson's work on client politics, where costs are widely distributed and benefits are narrowly concentrated, partly explains why the state's liquor policy is difficult to change. In addition, unionized workers in the state-owned liquor stores, the primary beneficiaries of the policy, are supported by the Democrats in the General Assembly. Moreover, the Republican governors were supported by only about half the Republican lawmakers, who were divided among themselves. So far the potential beneficiaries of privatization have been unorganized and on the sidelines. The evidence suggests that governors acting alone cannot change policy. Client politics and morality politics are likely to continue to block major reforms until or unless the issue is moved into the area of interest group politics that Wilson describes.