The Fourth of July is a month away, but the fireworks came early in Harrisburg at a senate hearing on liquor privatization.
Tempers flared between Lieutenant Governor Jim Cawley and Senator Jim Ferlo (D-Allegheny/Westmoreland). It was only 20 minutes of a four-hour hearing, but it livened up the packed hearing room.
In front of hundreds of yellow t-shirt wearing union members, Cawley questioned whether state store workers actually protect the public by keeping booze out of the wrong hands, as the union often suggests.
"There are those that would say that without state employees behind the cash register that the horsemen of the apocalypse would be unleashed on the people of Pennsylvania," Cawley said with sarcasm. "But that's not been the experience in 48 other states."
Ferlo didn't like Cawley's tone or his testimony.
"I have to be real blunt, and I'm trying to behave myself here, because I think your statement and your assessment is totally outrageous and inappropriate." The liquor store workers in the audience erupted in applause.
Ferlo didn't behave himself. He went on to blast Cawley for bringing Health Secretary Michael Wolf and Police Commissioner Frank Noonan to hearing room. They sat at the table with the Lieutenant Governor.
"For the colonel of the state police to even suggest that a proliferation of alcohol around the state is somehow gonna be enhanced under privatization, I think is laughable on its face."
Ferlo wasn't done. He also said Cawley should be embarrassed to suggest privatizing liquor stores will create more jobs in Pennsylvania.
"The notion that you're gonna kill all these family sustaining jobs and that somehow people are gonna go out and work for minimum wage at a damn Sheetz, I think is outrageous." Again, big applause from the yellow t-shirts.
Law and Justice Chairman Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks/Montgomery) had a bemused smile. "I'm glad Senator Ferlo behaved himself," McIlhinney said to laughter in the room.
But Cawley wasn't laughing. He shot back that Ferlo's comments were beyond the pale.
"This is a responsible proposal put forth by responsible people who aren't playing to a crowd that's currently in this room," the Lieutenant Governor said. "Rather than attack the people that are present here, perhaps you might concern yourself with addressing the proposal, sir."
It was interesting theatre to conclude the third and final senate hearing on the issue that's now been debated to death at the Capitol.
But not everyone was amused.
"I think there was a lot of disrespect in this room today," said Senator Gene Yaw (R-Bradford/Lycoming). "I frankly don't approve of that."
Afterward McIlhinney promised to have a liquor bill within two weeks. Whether it will be complete privatization or a hybrid or modernization of the current system remains to be seen and McIlhinney didn't seem sure which way he'll go.
It will then be up to Republican leadership and the governor to move his bill forward.
Governor Corbett wants a liquor bill to be wrapped up with the June 30 budget.