McIlhinney Could Face Primary Over Liquor Privatization

Ciervo McIlhinney
Rob Ciervo, left, and Chuck McIlhinney

Local official and conservative activist Rob Ciervo says he’ll challenge Chuck McIlhinney (R-Bucks) if the state Senator doesn’t support efforts to privatize the state’s liquor stores.

“If House Bill 790 as it is right now is not passed by the state Senate, then I’m going to probably be running. 95 percent chance,” Ciervo told PoliticsPA.

It’s the latest wrinkle in the complicated GOP push to turn the state’s 600 wine and spirits stores over to the private sector.

Ciervo (SER-voh) says he hadn’t seriously considered a primary before the liquor issue came to the fore.

“I hadn’t really been thinking about it,” he said.

Supporters of privatization say the government has no role in the sale of alcohol and that Pa. is one of just 2 states that remains in the industry post-Prohibition. They add that the state would retain the same annual benefits thanks to increased tax revenue. Ciervo made those points in a recent op-ed.

Opponents say the move would risk roughly 3,500 good-paying jobs as a giveaway to private interests. They contend that the numbers don’t add up and that the state would be needlessly selling off a cash cow – but agree that changes are needed within the current system.

Gov. Tom Corbett has staked a big part of his reputation – and his re-election – on the effort. House Republicans overcame years of inertia on the issue and passed a modified privatization bill Thursday.

Now it’s on to the state Senate, where Chuck McIlhinney is in the hot seat. He’s the chairman of the Law and Justice Committee which has jurisdiction over the issue, and must try to forge a bill that can pass the whole chamber.

For starters he says no to HB 790, the bill that passed the House last week. He told constituents that he’d have voted against the measure, according to the Bucks Intelligencer, and favors a plan that would keep Pa. in charge of its liquor stores.

That’s on par with a number of other Senate Republicans, particularly in southeast Pa., who have expressed less than a keen interest in privatization.

Potential Primary

A primary over liquor would highlight a schism between some elected Republicans, who urge moderation, and grassroots activists who demand full privatization. And it echoes a broader complaint by the GOP base: with total Republican control of state government, why isn’t more getting done?

“We’ve had enough. People here, we have issues we’ve tried to push, and we all we hear is excuses from politicians like McIlhenney,” Ciervo said. “We’ve got a Republican state Senate, a Republican state House, a Republican Governor.”

“Nothing infuriates people at the grassroots level more than hearing that. That it’s not a Democrat that’s blocking their issues. It’s union Republicans.”

A Republican politico close to McIlhinney noted that the bill as written leaves much to be desired.

“The House bill can be greatly improved. Are these people going to back off when [the Senator] does that?”

Probably not. Ciervo said if the Senate waters down the bill even a bit, he will likely run. He said HB790, which advantages beer distributors, had already strayed from his ideal version of the bill.

Ciervo, 44, lives with his wife and three children in Newtown where he serves as a Township Supervisor. He is in the final year of his 6 year term and is not seeking re-election. He works in the academic support center at Rutgers University’s Camden, NJ campus.

It wouldn’t be his first run for legislative office. He came within 163 votes of defeating state Rep. Steve Santarsiero (D-Bucks) in HD-31 in 2010.

He says he’s been calling grassroots activists, party leaders and elected officials in the district about a bid and has been encouraged.

However, several operatives told PoliticsPA he has a strained relationship with the party in a county where the GOP organization remains fairly strong and influential – and unwelcoming to primaries. He and supporters blamed party folks in Bucks County and Harrisburg when his 2010 campaign fell short, they say.

“His narcissism knows no bounds,” said one such operative, who is close to McIlhinney. “He lost his own home township in his last run for office. And now threatens the very person who originally supported him for Supervisor.”

Update: Ciervo says McIlhinney was not among his initial supporters. He said, “Since I was not endorsed [McIlhinney] asked me not to run so there was not a primary… Chuck was never an initial supporter of mine as I ran against the establishment.”

In 2012, when the nomination fight for the 31st came between party-endorsed Helen Bosley and conservative Anne Chapman, Ciervo managed Chapman’s campaign. Bosley, who previously worked for Planned Parenthood, fell to Chapman nearly 2 to 1 in the primary. Chapman went on to lose to Santarsiero by 15 points.

But he has some support in a prospective Senate bid. He says the conservative activists and donors at the Citizens Alliance for Pennsylvania are encouraging him to get into the race. The group has supported and funded a number of GOP challengers in recent years including Chapman, as well as the man who ousted Rep. Rick Geist (R-Blair), John McGinnis.

Like Geist, McIlhinney supported a 2001 bill that increased lawmaker pensions by 50% – a favorite topic for CAP.

“There’s a lot of local and statewide money out there interested in challenging state Senators,” said one conservative operative, who noted that recruitment efforts were ongoing in SEPA and elsewhere.

Let there be no doubt, however, that Ciervo would face a steep uphill battle. Senate Republicans tend to stand by their own; there’s quite a bit of money out there for incumbents, too.

The District

SD10 2001 v 2011
Current SD-10 (green border) and proposed SD-10 (pink border). Source:

The 10th Senate district comprises most of Bucks County by area, from the outskirts of Levittown north along the Delaware River to include Doylestown, Newtown, Upper and Lower Makefield and more.

It’s a swing district with a 42.8% to 40.3% voter registration advantage for Republicans according to Labels & Lists. Democrats include it among their potential targets for 2014.

The latest version of the redistricted state Senate map wouldn’t change the SD-10 much; it would retain 93.4% of its voters including 93% of its Republicans.

HD-31, where Ciervo ran, is well-represented in the Senate district: about a quarter of the voters in the current and proposed SD-10 also live in HD-31. The House seat is located entirely with the current SD-10.

McIlhinney, 45, has served in the state Senate since he was elected in 2006. He was in the state House from 1998 to 2006 and formerly served on Doylestown Borough Council. He lives in Doylestown Township with his wife and two children.

If Ciervo does take a pass, one operative named Pennsbury school board member Simon Campbell as another possibility. A British, naturalized American citizen, Campbell has name ID among statewide conservatives due to the group he founded called Stop Teacher Strikes.

38 Responses

  1. Illustrative of Guzzardi’s concerns are these points made by the incumbent-senator regarding why he would have voted against the house-bill {which passed}:

    “In January, McIlhinney reintroduced legislation that would allow beer retailers to buy a special license to sell wine and spirits. He said he also supported prior bills that opened liquor stores on Sundays and allowed Internet sales of wine.

    “ ‘I support relaxing our (rules) to get the choices we need,’ he said Friday.

    “The current proposal, he said, goes too far.

    “ ‘We have all these small business people who have gone through the system we said you have to go through,’ he said. ‘We can’t blow that up overnight.’ ”

    To the novice such as myself, this does not “read” as raising concerns that cannot be surmounted.

  2. Until Senator McIhinney states, unequivocally, that he supports ending the Beer Distributorship Cartel and selling the state stores, he is vulnerable to a primary challenge.

    His recent editorial says he supports “privatization” and then equivocates with “we’ll look at all the options”. Even the low information voter knows that means he will sabotage real consumer choice and business competition.

  3. Interim comments have continued harping on campaign-related concerns instead of addressing policy-determined stances.

    I had advised that those “without a horse in the race” would be more responsive to appreciating how they would function legislatively than to myriad recitations of political “truths.”

    Thus, I recapitulate my concerns [and hope that ad-hominem attacks on Guzzardi would be perceivable as tangential] regarding whether enough is known about the State Store Sale controversy to formulate an unbiased perspective on the two men.

    This would be instructive also with regard to the MedMal issue [vide infra] because–at this point–it’s probably too early for a challenger to declare him-/herself as a candidate; for example, if either individual would support “loser pays” legislation, a strongly-negative reaction could ensure.

    I hope that my letter’s success in prompting bloggers to tone-down their rhetoric will become a consideration when blogging elsewhere; it still would be desirable if mind-reading [“you lied”] would be supplanted by a completely objective rendering of the facts.

  4. Thank you Donald for exposing Ciervo’s lies. I noticed that you didn’t mention the $85,000 he was given by the GOP party PACs that was largely raised by McIlhinney. But once again Rob doesn’t want the truth because it is an inconvenient factor.

    Also Rob, who was it that offered to pick up the legal fees for the ballot challenge and recount in 2010 for you? It was Chuck McIlhinney. I didn’t see Simon Campbell or Bob Guzzardi opening up their wallets for you.

    BTW I heard their was a position open in Delaware Valley, you might want to stick to Coleges and leave the politics t people who have spines.

    Mr Skarloff, Rob knows he is lying just like he tried to shills stories of secret deals cut behind his back. except to make his story plausible he would have had to know what he was talking about.

  5. Mr. Ciervo’s comment that “Chuck was not my biggest supporter ……. his PAC gave me $0. His mother’s PAC gave me some money but less than my grandmother donated to me,” is not only disingenuous and downright disgraceful, but it is the very reason why he will not be elected so much as dog catcher. Typical Ciervo, he spins and manipulates the truth and treats people like they’re a bunch of fools.

    TRUTH: Sen. McIlhinney raised $11,000 through his mothers PAC for Rob.
    ROB’s VERSION: “gave me some money, but less then my grandmother.”
    Since when did $11,000 become a drop in the bucket? Yes, Rob’s grandmother gave him $15,000, but that does not make $11K so meager that you call it “some money”. And on top of all that the Senator helped to raise him another $30,000. Although Rob will tell you that he didn’t because it didn’t come directly from the Senator’s own PAC.

    This is the type of manipulative and deceptive behavior that is Rob Ciervo, and quite frankly I find it appalling. And so will voters. He won one race, back when people didn’t know who he really was, since then he’s had 3 failed attempts.

    Supervisor: Won
    St. Representative: Lost
    Alt. GOP Delegate: Lost
    County Commissioner: Lost
    State Senate: Will Lose

    The People are not as stupid as you think they are Rob.

  6. more contributions from the State Campaign Finance website for Sen. McIlhinney

    Full Name of Contributing Committee



    TAVERN PAC 121 PINE STRE Harrisburg $120



    SENATE REPUBLICAN CAMPAIGN COMMITTEE $50,000 (this means he is owned by Senators Pileggi and Scarnati).

  7. @ Mike and Sean

    Instead of invoking invective–which Rob appears to have refuted–would you care to provide issues-oriented reactions to the lede of the original essay?

    Yesterday, I discussed the LCB-oriented issues in my earlier posting, it would be instructive to know [from two obvious-insiders] how Ciervo-opponents project events will unfold.

    @ Rob

    As a physician who no longer is a PMS-member [but who interacted extensively with LL in the 1990’s], I’m curious as to what specific MedMal Reform issue you feel the incumbent has been suboptimal.

    Remember, if you were to run in the primary, you would not be running [I hope] against the aggregate GOP-establishment; this would place you on shaky-ground, for any presumed success thereof would redound against your candidacy.

  8. Funny Rob, the same company did the Glasson Campaign and he was just as close with far worse registration numbers. I guess the fact that he knocked on 15,000 doors while you sat in front of a computer screen talking on every blog you could find about what ever tickled your fancy.

    The sad part is you will do it again. you are nothing more then a squeaky wheel. No go back to writing guest opinions on your taxpayer funded computer.

  9. Chuck was not my biggest supporter in my State House run. If you check the financial reports his PAC gave me $0. His mother’s PAC gave me some money but less than my grandmother donated to me. My biggest financial supporter was Larry Light and the Medical Society PAC as I am and always will be a strong supporter of medical malpractice reform. Has that been passed in the last 2 years even though we have a Republican Governor, House and Senate? No. Why not? Because of GOP State Senators, especially some that represent Bucks County who block it!

    I find it hard to believe a little David like myself going up the Goliath of a sitting State Senator is causing so much consternation. If Chuck can’t beat me by 25 points in a primary, perhaps he should not be chairing any Senate committees.

    I always find it so incredulous that people will belittle you and state you have no chance at winning and then at the same time attempt to campaign against you by using personal attacks in attempt to get you to not run.

    It certainly speaks to the insecurity of the Senator’s supporters on this blog some of whom I will propose I mistakenly used to do our direct mail campaign. That was a mistake! Perhaps if we used another firm we would have made up that 162 vote difference.

  10. Rob, you’re an asshole. There, I resorted name-calling before starting an argument. Has my name-calling preempted the argument allow me to fall outside the golden rule?

    Anyway, I find it hard to take seriously a person like Mr. Ciervo. First and foremost, his largest supporter–to the tune of $40k– in his failed bid for the House was Chuck McIlhinney. I question the morals and ethics of someone who would turn so quickly on an ally like that. It smacks of self-centered narcissistic thinking. Further, the fact that those closest to Rob, his constituents in his township, went with Santarsiero, who is from a different township, shows how Mr. Ciervo rubs people who have been around him enough.

    On to rules, the golden rule used to be “Argue from 9-5, and be friends after.” “Disagree but don’t be disagreeable.” The more people like Ciervo, and on the opposite side Santarsiero, are elected to office, the less bi-partisan, the less pragmatic, and the less effective the legislature becomes. I want people who can reason and get results, not ideologues.

    Think about it, Chris Christie gets things done, Barack Obama doesn’t.

  11. I don’t have a “horse” in this race, but a few comments are in-order.

    First, this is a worthwhile article as evidenced–if nothing else–by the tremendous reaction it provoked; thus, “Billy” self-marginalizes [not to mention is vulgarities and ad-hominem against Guzzardi].

    Second, it is remarkable that the focus of the piece chose to weigh-in, if for no other reason than to correct-the-record from his perspective; thus, those who attempt to disregard him must recognize his readiness to “engage.”

    Third, just as Corbett demonstrated [so far] the capacity to accomplish something meaningful [and, thus, to undermine the “do-nothing” claim], the incumbent has the ability to pass a bill out-of-committee that he deems “passable” [pun intended]; this would perhaps reflect lobbyist-influence, but it would lead to satisfying the campaign-pledge to sell the State Stores [with the public otherwise less than concerned with details].

    Fourth, regarding those details, the author of such input as what was composed by “Self-serving Ciervo” reveal their inherent biases when they invoke rhetoric [“killing small businesses and handing over the liquor sales to huge multi-national corporations”] rather than confronting the overall concept of privatization; coupled with his other caustic comments, it would be wise to question anything else this anonymous blogger would compose.

    Fifth, having never spoken-in-depth with the involved-individuals [although I may have chatted for a moment with Ciervo @ a Holiday party sponsored by a local blogger, years ago], what emerges from this piece is the “principled” posture struck [thus far] by Ciervo, for issues do matter; just as what is happening statewide with Castor, he must keep his powder dry but, ultimately, his mere presence is currently probably going to affect behavior…enhancing its “responsible”-ness.

    Sixth, Guzzardi knows the principals [pun intended] and he provides both fact/opinion that cannot be ignored; strip-away his chronic concerns with party-control, and one is left with an appreciation of the motives of those who are potential-players [and those who aren’t].

    Finally, Guzzardi’s model must be respected, namely, the need to scrutinize union-relationships as major determinants of rhetoric/behavior; judging from the lame lingo emerging from House-D’s last week, it would appear that they have distanced themselves from both “The Forgotten Taxpayer” and the typical-indie…who just wants to grab a bottle of booze.

  12. Martin, do facts really bother you that much? As evidenced today by Rob’s comment below his largest problem has been and will continue to be his inability to step away from the computer screen. Instead of talking to voters and working, he sits in his taxpayer funded office and writes comments on articles all day. This is ofcourse before he writes several guest opinions that people send in for him.
    Rob is quickly becoming the next Tom Lingenfelter as he is becoming the perpetual losing candidate. I hope the new trailer lark in Newtown is named after him since it is his arrogance that has driven the builder to rrefuse considering townhouses.

  13. Sean Ryan, wake me up when your opinion becomes relevant to, well, anything….

    You’re a man (and I use that term loosely) who never meant an unexpressed thought.

  14. Saul – The liquor issue isn’t a hill to die on. It is an issue where solid majorities of Democratic, Republican and Independent voters are in agreement. It seems the only Pennsylvanians opposed are LCB employees, their union reps, House Democrats and around 25 Senators of both parties who receive generous donations from the union.

  15. Bucks County is one of the most moderate counties in the entire state yet is solidly represented by Republicans. Why?

    Because they are moderates that actually understand they need support from Democrats and Republicans to get ANYTHING accomplished. Go ahead and die on the hill if you want to be ideologically pure, 0% of your agenda will get passed.

  16. Great news. We need a few more high profile primary challengers in some GOP Senate districts. Watering down this bil in any wayl is unacceptable. The only way to change things in the Senate is to flush Chuck and his ilk down the proverbial toilet and start over.

  17. Chuck, go get a real job like everyone else. Career politicians like you are the problem. I do not know what would be worse – Pat’s continued reign in the Bucks GOP or control going back to your family. Not much difference. Give me Ciervo or Campbell over political trash like Chuck any day.

  18. Hey Rob,
    Maybe you can return the $40,000 you were given in 2010 by McIlhinney since you apparently don’t want anything t do with him.
    Maybe when you lose you can blame Simon Campbell since he is the only person you haven’t blamned for your loss. BTW, why didn’t you request a recount in 2012?

  19. Ciervo is a moron. He has blamed everyone but himself for his loss in 2010. In fact Mcillhinney was his largest contributor. Simon and Ciervo can not win elections unless there is less then 5000 votes. Then the very small majority of thier followers can pull of a win.

    Hell, because of Ciervo his own township is getting a trailerpark.

  20. The Pennsbury School Board race will be Unions v Simon Campbell and his team. Pennsbury is about 25% of SD-10. Simon’s opponents will be Rob Ciervo’s opponents:McIhinneyDeonDiGirolamoUnion Republicans getting rich from bad government.

    I hope Team Ciervo will come to Simon’s aide. The Pennsbury contest sets the stage for Ciervo v. McIhinney.

    It is not suprising that the Union Monopoly is aligning with Beer Monopoly against taxpayers and consumers.

  21. So, Mr. Ciervo, you love the bill. You are ok with forcing people to go to two distinctly different areas of a grocery store to buy wine and beer? Using different registers to check out? That’s the conservative’s idea of convenience? McIlhinney can make the bill BETTER, but if he changes it you are running?

    It sounds like you are running and looking for an excuse that sounds good other than your apparently instinctual need to run for higher office.

  22. Rob Ciervo ran his own race for State Rep – basically ignoring the Harrisburg advice – and LOST in one of the greatest GOP years ever.

    He lost his own hometown where the voters know him best because it was easily proven Rob is neither the arch conservative he claims to be or the more moderate type that the mass of voters in the 31st want. (same voters as in the 10th)

    Primary voting GOP voters are not as dumb as Ciervo needs them to be. And McIlhinney is popular everywhere in the district, while Ciervo is unknown.

    No one is as smart as Ciervo – just ask him – and that will be his undoing once again. His CAP friends are just as dumb – and helped cost Chapman a few more percentage points in her loss with their stupid Sandusky attacks. Ciervo and CAP are both extremists with no sense of reality when it comes to what the people in that district want and they will lose…again and again and again.

    Ciervo needs a job – which is why he was running around trying to get a local township manager position – and CAP needs a stooge. Opportunity knocks…

  23. What about that fraud Rep. Farry in the House. A total union shill who was one of 5 Republican votes against this bill. We need someone to primary him!

  24. I’ve just about had enough of the good senator from Bucks.
    It’s about time someone sends a letter to ALL his donors to let them know how he’s been spending their good money recently.

  25. The ideal situation is for both candidates to go away and someone else win. Ciervo is toxic and McIlhinney is just as worthless as a Democrat.

  26. Oh yeah, fogot to mention, I’m no supporter of the sitting senator. I will support any Dem that runs against him. I just want people to understand what a pile of dung this liquor privatization bill has become. It’s unfortunate that some southeast Republicans were bought so easily by Speaker Smith and Tom Corbett.

  27. Buy up all the new licenses? If you want to be a State Senator, you better learn how to read legislation. The bill expands the amount of licenses available and there is no way a mom and pop beer distributor will be able to afford any license above and beyond the initial one. Rite Aid, CVS, Wal-Mart, Sheetz, and other huge companies will slowly destroy mom and pop shops. It will take time, but their pockets are much deeper. Whatever happened to compassionate conservatives? Oh, that’s right, they sold their souls to mega-corporations and still subscribe to trickle-down economics. I think the people have learned what a farce that is.

  28. Chuck is a pro-abortion Catholic and career politician. I agree that liquor privatization is not an issue that people care too much about – but when you combine it as part of the RINO package that is Chuck Mc, he needs to go. It won’t be easy but like Obama, does Chuck know what its like to have a private section job? Or has it been too long since he had one? Term limits please.

  29. Rob,

    If you feel the need to comment on a story about you, you will probably lose the primary.

    Also, if people are willing saying that your “… narcissism knows no bounds,” within the article, the golden rule states that you are, in fact, an assclown.

  30. If unnamed personal insults is the best that the supporters of a sitting State Senator can come up with in his defense that surely says a lot.

    The golden rule in political debates is when you resort to name calling you have lost the argument.

    And a correction to this story is that Senator McIlhinney did not support me for Township Supervisor in the 2007 Republican primary. I ran unendorsed against an incumbent who was also Chairman of the local Newtown Republican Committee. I won that race by nearly a 2-1 margin and then all of a sudden elected Republican officials wanted to support me. Funny how that works…

    The current bill has been watered down enough and allows all existing beer distributors to buy up all of the new licenses anyway. The idea that this will kill small “family businesses” in an unfounded lark.

    Any Republican who fails to support this bill does so because they are following the wishes of their public sector union donors.

  31. This story makes me wonder who is the bigger piece of shit- Keegan for actually writing this worthless non-story or bobguzzardi for actually supporting this worthless assclown named Ciervo.

  32. If Ciervo thinks people really care about this…he is a fool. Yeah, I know the polls show that people support privatization, but the people polled are assuming the new system will be convenient for them….which is absolutely not the case as HB 790 currently stands. Senator McIlhinney isn’t going to be bullied by Ciervo…especially since Ciervo, as a supporter of the current bill, is also a supporter of killing small businesses and handing over the liquor sales to huge multi-national corporations. Those with the money – over the long term- will have the cash to buy up the licenses.

  33. It is highly unlikely Simon Campbell will challenge McIlhinney. Simon Campbell has an entirely different strategy than state office. Simon is focused on school board contracts as the vehicle to end the forced taxpayer contributions to Union PACS, of union dues to private union organization, to forced unionism for a public service job, and to misnamed “Fair Share” forcing someone to pay for something they don’t want.

  34. Rob Ciervo will be formidable. It will be an independent Republican against the self-serving Unionized and Beer Cartel BucksCo Republican Establishment Insiders

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