Yanking Russian booze is a lay-up. Leaders still need to watch messaging | Monday Morning Coffee

Americans have a nasty habit of sliding into xenophobia. The Russian people aren’t the enemy here

February 28, 2022 7:17 am
A state liquor store front in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison).

A state liquor store front in Harrisburg (Capital-Star photo by Elizabeth Hardison).

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.
In politics, it’s often the case that the optics matters as much — if not more — than the actual policy.

So, in that context, it wasn’t surprising over the weekend to see Gov. Tom Wolf and other Pennsylvania pols call on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Boardto pull Russian-sourced products from the shelves of the commonwealth’s roughly 600 state-owned liquor stores.

Such a move would be an “expression of our collective revulsion with the unprovoked actions of the Russian state,” Wolf said in a statement released by his office.

After initially saying it was “considering next possible steps,” the PLCB, which is a quasi-independent agency just like the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission and the Pennsylvania Gaming Control Boardfell into line by day’s end.

“As of today, these products will no longer be sold or procured by the PLCB,” the board’s chairperson, Tim Holden, said in a statement. “Given the evolving political-economic climate, it’s just the right thing to do.”

While it’s probably a logistical headache, in practical terms, the LCB’s decision isn’t exactly going to bring the Russian economy to its knees.

Only two products in the state stores — Russian Standard and Ustianochka 80-proof vodkas – and five special order items, actually come from Russia, board spokesperson Shawn Kelly told the Capital-Star’s Stephen Caruso.

Nor, for that matter, is the decision likely to put much of a dent in the regulatory agency’s bottom line.

Over the last year, those Russian-made products “accounted for less than $1.1 million in sales — 0.06% — out of more than $1.7 billion of total spirits sales,” Kelly told Caruso.

But other states are following suit. And to paraphrase an old political chestnut, a bottle of vodka here, a bottle of vodka there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.

New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu (New Hampshire Bulletin photo)

On Saturday, New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu signed an executive ordering the Granite State’s state liquor stores to remove Russian-made and Russian-branded spirits, according to published reports.

Acknowledging that the move was mostly symbolic, Sununu, a Republican, said the Russian liquor industry could be take an economic hit if if other states followed New Hampshire’s lead.

“We see whats happening. People are losing their lives,” Sununu told WMUR-TV. “It’s unprovoked aggression, and if we can get New Hampshire to do their part and take these products off of the Russian shelves—I don’t know anyone buying that garbage right now, frankly—its a good thing and it’s a step we can make.”

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (Getty Images)

Taking to Twitter on Saturday, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said he’d ordered the Ohio Department of Commerce to stop the purchase and sale of Russian Standard VodkaFox News reported.

DeWine, a Republican, said Russian Standard Vodka is the only Russian-owned distillery that sells vodka in his state.

State liquor regulators “[estimate] that there are approximately 6,400 bottles of vodka made by Russian Standard currently for sale in Ohio’s 487 liquor agencies across the state,” DeWine tweeted. “Retailers have been asked to immediately pull Green Mark Vodka and Russian Standard Vodka from their shelves.”

Again, while largely a matter of optics, these move by governors in three states — two of them presidential battlegrounds, are smart politics, one veteran observer said.

“On both politics and policy, it’s the right thing to do,” Millersville University political analyst G. Terry Madonna told the Capital-Star, noting that there’s also safety in numbers for those states’ chief executives.

But it also can be a slippery slope, giving ammunition to nativists looking for an excuse to lash out.

Such was the case a century ago, when a government-sanctioned propaganda campaign unleashed a wave of xenophobia against German-Americans as the nation entered World War I, NPR reported.

Muslim-Americans saw similar backlash in the days after the Sept. 11 attacks, even though then-President George W. Bush stressed that the United States was at war with terrorists — and not Islam.

With extremism and nationalism still a genuine national security threat, it’s wise counsel to bear in mind. Boycott the products — don’t attack the people and the culture. They are, in fact, what Russian strongman Vladimir Putin fears the most.

Pennsylvania State Capitol Building. (Capital-Star photo by Cassie Miller.)

Our Stuff.
In this week’s edition of The Numbers RacketCassie Miller delves into some distressing Pew Research Center data: The majority of Americans say access to affordable housing is a problem.

From me, here’s the full story on the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board removing Russian-sourced products from its shelves.

Oral arguments in the case pitting the reproductive rights group Equity Forward against Real Alternatives, a Harrisburg-based contractor that’s received tens of millions of dollars in public funding, are set to begin March 7 in Pennsylvania’s Commonwealth CourtCassie Miller has what you need to know about the case and its impact on the broader abortion rights debate.

COVID-19 isn’t going away, but health officials say Pennsylvania is ready to transition to the next phaseMarley Parish reports.

In Iowa, officials are racing to keep a Pennsylvania-based company from jacking up insurance premiums on elderly residents, our sibling site, the Iowa Capital Dispatch, reports.

Our partners at City & State Pa. go deep on the troubling links between race and solitary confinement in Pennsylvania’s jails and prisons.

En la Estrella-Capital: Gastar o ahorrar? Wolf y la Legislatura comienzan las conversaciones sobre el presupuesto con diferentes puntos de vista sobre el futuro fiscal de Pa., por Marley Parish.

On our Commentary Page this morning: In a time of war, Republicans are giving aid and comfort to the enemy, opinion regular Dick Polman writes. And in his final budget, Gov. Tom Wolf has dropped his quest to get municipalities that use the State Police to pay a fee for their services. But the problem remains, opinion regular Mark O’Keefe writes.

Rep. Frank Ryan, R-Lebanon, asked for an audit of PSERS travel expenses Friday, March 6, 2020 at a Harrisburg board meeting. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

The Inquirer tries to get to the bottom of who’s really in charge at PSERS.

People took to the streets in Pittsburgh over the weekend to show support for Ukraine, the Post-Gazette reports.

PennLive runs its annual list of state employees who earn more than $100,000.

GOP U.S. Senate candidate Mehmet Oz campaigned in Lancaster over the weekend, taking questions about Ukraine and his Pennsylvania residency, LancasterOnline reports.

And Republican gubernatorial candidate Lou Barletta barnstormed on his home turf in Luzerne County, the Citizens’ Voice reports.

The Delaware River Basin Commission is gearing up for another vote on fracking, the Pocono Record reports (via the York Daily Record).

Lehigh Valley political leaders warned this weekend about the risk of Russian cyber-attacks, the Morning Call reports.

In the Pennridge schools in suburban Philly, a free, church-based tutoring service recommended on the district’s website has raised concerns among parents, WHYY-FM reports.

Pennsylvania has seen fewer job layoffs than in other statesWITF-FM’s ‘Smart Talk‘ reports.

A group in Erie plans to make a multi-million dollar investment on the city’s East Side, GoErie reports.

The Observer-Reporter frames out the pocketbook impact of the Ukraine War in southwestern Pennsylvania.

PoliticsPA runs down last week’s winners and losers in state politics.

Roll Call looks at the impact the Ukraine war could have on U.S. defense spending.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:


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What Goes On
Budget hearings roll on in the House Appropriations Committee. All sessions are live-streamed from the House floor.
10 a.m.: Department of Environmental Protection
1 p.m.: Department of Transportation

In the Senate: The Senate Law & Justice Committee meets at 10 a.m. in Hearing Room 1 of the North Office Building.

12 p.m., Harrisburg Hilton: House Majority Leader Kerry Benninghoff, R-Centre, addresses this month’s Pennsylvania Press Club luncheon.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition)
5 p.m.: Reception for Rep. Mary Isaacson, D-Philadelphia. Admission runs $250 to $2,500.

Gov. Tom Wolf has no public schedule today.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept
Belated best wishes go out this morning to Christian Alexandersen, fellow Stoic and social media maven for state Senate Democrats, who celebrated on Saturday. Best wishes go out this morning to PennLive’s Megan Lavey Heaton and to old friend, Peter Hall, of the Morning Call, both of whom celebrate today.

Heavy Rotation
I’ve just started watching James Gunn’s run on Peacemaker on HBO Max. It is violent and profane and utterly ridiculous. But this playlist of 80s pop metal soundtracks the series somehow manages to straddle the line between the ridiculous and the sublime.

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link
Carolina got past the visiting Edmonton Oilers 2-1 at PNC Bank Arena on Sunday afternoon. The ‘Canes’ Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho had a goal apiece, with Teravainen extending his points streak to eight games.

And now you’re up to date.

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John L. Micek

A three-decade veteran of the news business, John L. Micek is the Pennsylvania Capital-Star's former Editor-in-Chief.