On the strength of the Republican House majority and with muscle from the office of a Republican governor, Pennsylvanians saw something Thursday they had never seen before. A chamber of the Legislature passed a bill to end the state's liquor monopoly.
Now the reform moves to another Republican-controlled venue, the state Senate. The message from Pennsylvanians, most of whom now favor getting the government out of this business, is simple: Don't blow it.
Yes, the House bill is not perfect. It gives too many breaks to beer distributors, which still should have the opportunity to sell wine and liquor. It gives supermarkets too little ability to sell beer, but a chance to get wine licenses after beer distributors get first crack.
Some might say that by offering 1,200 licenses to sell wine and spirits and possibly 600 more, the House measure would create too many liquor outlets. Others may be disappointed that, although the plan gradually turns wholesale and retail sales over to private merchants, there is no hard deadline for when that is accomplished.
Regardless, this proposal would let Pennsylvania shake off the cobwebs of a post-Prohibition system and join the 21st century. While Democrats in the House and Senate have continued their old-guard obstructionism, siding with liquor emloyee unions and other forces against consumer convenience, the Republicans have the numbers to bring this long battle to a happy end.
It's now up to the Senate, where the top Republicans, Majority Leader Dominic Pileggi and President Pro Tem Joe Scarnati, have not been champions of privatization. Yet the liquor initiative, which is pro-business and pro-smaller government, goes to the core of Republicanism. If they can't back these principles in this legislation, they have no right leading their caucus. Can they even be Republicans?
Some lawmakers, both dino-Democrats and retro-Republicans alike, say the state should "modernize" the government liquor monopoly first. Except there's nothing modern about modernizing a system from the 1930s that was designed to keep people from buying alcohol. Is this what passes for progress to Senate Republicans?
Congratulations to the House -- and to Majority Leader Mike Turzai and Gov. Tom Corbett for getting the reform this far. But they have a lot of persuading to do in the Senate.
The governor in particular must use the tools at his disposal -- including the pledge to line-item veto pet legislative projects and the threat to run Republican primary challengers against Republican incumbents -- to get the votes that privatization needs.
The Democrats on this issue have been hopeless. Republicans must help other Republicans to see the light.