Political ads show entrenched sides of liquor privatization debate
The moving image of a young girl standing over her father's casket is one of latest salvos in the media war over liquor privatization in Pennsylvania.
While it's unclear whether the Pennsylvania legislature will vote to do away with the state store system, the contending forces in the debate have done their best to move public opinion with TV ads and web videos.
The commercial (above), from the United Food and Commercial Workers Union, which represents about 3,500 state store workers, might initially be mistaken for a public service announcement about drunk driving.
A young girl puts flowers on a coffin while a voice-over laments everything her father will never do with her because a drunk driver has killed him.
An announcer says Pennsylvania has the "lowest death rate associated with alcohol in the nation," and that is "thanks to current laws and the effectiveness of Wine and Spirits stores' employees."
The facts behind the images
While the spot plucks heartstrings, it relies on a statistic that doesn't actually have to do with drunk driving. The source, a CDC National Vital Statistics Report from 2007, deals with alcohol-related diseases and illnesses, and indeed ranks Pennsylvania best in the nation. But the number excludes unintentional injuries, homicides and fatal accidents, like the one referred to in the ad.
UFCW Local 1776 President Wendell Young said in a telephone interview he stands behind the claim in the ad and believes it's "not over the top; it's not overly emotional."
The UFCW has several other spots on the internet and the airwaves, including one calling the privatization plan a "reckless scheme," and another accusing Gov. Tom Corbett of not being a true "fiscal conservative."
Making the case for private sales
Privatization proponents have been busy with images of their own.
The Conservative Commonwealth Foundation posted an unflattering video of Young, heckling at a pro-privatization news conference in the state capitol. Foundation president Matthew J. Brouillette writes that "if you ever wondered what happens to your school playground bully when he 'grows up,' here you go ...."
The National Federation of Independent Businesses runs a website called Main Street Does it Better, featuring videos detailing the purported benefits of privatization for consumers and small businesses, claims disputed by the union and other privatization foes.
And several weeks ago, the conservative group, Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania launched a TV ad (below) targeting Bucks county Pa. Sen. Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks County) for his failure to support privatization.
An announcer chides McIlhinney for "siding with union bosses who want to keep taxpayers footing the bill for Pennsylvania's broken government-run liquor story system."
McIlhinney has since come out with his own plan calling for private liquor stores to compete with state stores, earning the wrath of all sides in the debate.
"We're pretty disappointed with what Sen. McIlhinney came out with," Leo Knepper of the Citizens Alliance of Pennsylvania said. "He's not really proposing privatization. He's proposing modernization."
"His plan would destroy a very valuable public asset," Young said on his union website. "No matter how the senator dresses this plan up, it would put 5,000 LCB employees out of work, hundreds of local beer distributors out of business and the 10,000 Pennsylvanians they employ out of work as well."
As long as the fight goes on, the ads and videos no doubt will keep coming.