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Politically Uncorrected: Kane: Part of a Bigger Problem

KaneKathleen Kane, Pennsylvania’s embattled attorney general, is having some bad days.  A year ago she was the toast of state politics, in 2012 becoming the first women and first Democrat to win the office. These days she looks more like toast herself as she struggles to hold on to that office.

Among her various problems, she faces possible indictment on grand jury tampering and has been criticized for her prosecution decisions. Some have called for her resignation or even impeachment.

Her problems, widely discussed and hotly debated, are, however, not the topic addressed here.

Discussed here instead is the office itself. Kane is not the first Pennsylvania attorney general to confront strife and dissension. Indeed the attorney general who begins and ends their tenure unscathed by controversy is a rare bird.

Some history of the office and its incumbents is useful.

Pennsylvania has had a multitude of attorneys general, reaching back into the colonial era. Counting several “acting” attorneys general and allowing for some spotty record keeping in earlier times, the state since the 1680’s has sworn in approximately 105 attorneys general.

The vast majority of these until 1980 were appointed in some way, in a fashion similar to that used today to select the federal attorney general — presidential nomination, followed by Senate confirmation.

All that changed abruptly 35 years ago in the aftermath of Pennsylvania’s “limited” constitutional convention devoted to modernizing the aged state constitution.

One proposal coming out of the 1968 convention was a provision to elect rather than appoint the attorney general. Subsequently, ratified by voters in a statewide referendum, this proposal became effective (1980), with passage of “the Commonwealth Attorney Act,” establishing the attorney general as an independent elective office.

Since then Pennsylvania has elected five attorneys general, one woman and four men. The governor has appointed another five “acting attorneys general.”

These then, as a popular crime drama likes to put it, are “the facts” behind Pennsylvania’s almost four-decades long experiment with electing the state’s top law enforcement officer.

But they are far less than the whole story.  Early advocates of election expected much from the new office. It would be independent from the other branches of government, while decreasing corruption and increasing the accountability of state officials.

It hasn’t worked out that way.

For a while it seemed it could. The first elected attorney general, Leroy Zimmerman (R), performed well in office, encountered no major controversy, stayed out of blatant political intrigues and finished his two terms widely respected.

But former Lackawanna County District Attorney Ernie Preate (R) followed him, a gubernatorial aspirant caught in a campaign money scandal that earned him a conviction for mail fraud and a year in federal prison.

Preate’s successor, Mike Fisher (R), a former legislator and talented litigator who successfully argued a case before the U. S. Supreme Court, also lost a gubernatorial contest and left office a year early during his second term to accept an appointment to the third federal circuit.

Fisher’s successor, Tom Corbett (R), aggressively pursued corruption, successfully prosecuting dozens of legislators and staff in the so called “bonus gate” scandal.  He resigned in his second term when he was elected governor, the first elected attorney general to do so. But Corbett’s term as governor was widely viewed a failure, an outcome many link to his inability to make the transition from AG to the political world of governor.

Corbett’s successor, Kane (D), is a story yet unfinished. However, few predict her term will end happily or that she will escape the fate of most of her predecessors.
Only one elected Pennsylvania attorney general finished his term without resigning.

There are two vital lessons to learn in this long litany of frustrations confronted by Pennsylvania’s elected attorney general.

One: politics and law enforcement do not work well together in Pennsylvania’s unique political culture. Virtually all of the problems encountered by attorneys general are linked to their political activities or aspirations.

Two: the qualities needed to succeed in high political office such as governor do not often fit well with the qualities needed in the state’s top law enforcement officer. Corbett is the poster child for this argument. Excluding Kane, three of the four people elected attorney general since 1980 aspired to the governor’s office.

Some would point to elections as the problem. In a sense, it is.

But elections also mean attorneys general are “independent” of the other branches of government. Without this independence, history firmly teaches that an attorney general will neither ferret out corruption nor prosecute bad behavior by politicians. So, if we throw out elections, we also throw out independence — not a good bargain.

The better answer is to continue elected independence for attorneys general while proscribing incumbents from running for another state office without resigning. A number of states and cities already have these “resign to run laws.” They might well be extended to the other two independent offices in Pennsylvania, treasurer and auditor general.

The current crisis with Pennsylvania’s attorney general will be resolved in due time in the appropriate forums. But there are other systemic problems with the office that transcend the current crisis.

Resolving that current crisis will not solve them.

16 Responses

  1. lol really burns you guys that she is actually going to go down for this, huh? all because of her own stupidity too lol

  2. Unsanctioned R-

    “How do you know they’re not looking into them?”

    Because they removed all the mirrors from the court house.

  3. Steve-
    And none of the people leading the witch hunt against her is looking into the leaks from their own grand jury.

    So, either they or their witnesses are criminals as well.
    They are certainly hypocrites about grand jury secrecy.

  4. Seriously folks? Stop with trying to make the porn emails… into real porn! Most were inappropriate jokes. It was juvenile and wrong but some are trying to use it as a distraction for all of Kane’s legal problems. No matter how loud you yell PORN EMAILS or spread rumors (without facts) that others were in the email chain, nothing changes the fact that Kane created the mess she is in by illegally releasing grand jury testimony and then lying about to a another grand jury.

  5. @bungy “Let me get this straight, it was cool for Clinton to have sex in the oval office, but watching porn is the end of the world.”

    Of course it hypocritical. That’s why readers give their comments no merit.

  6. bungy-

    It’s seems to be mostly the R’s in Corbett’s A.G. office and these Republican judges who seem to be so obsessed with porn that they can’t resist viewing and sharing it at work.

  7. Hey lion, at least ROMNEY was having sex with a hot looking blonde WOMAN. He probably likes porn also.

  8. I have no idea how “resign-to-run” would fix this mess. Corbett would have resigned and then become governor and been just as bad at it. Fischer would have resigned, run, and lost.

    How would resign-to-run make the AG’s office better? Because we limit the number of aspiring politicians running for the office? It’s a political office. Perhaps the reason Kathleen Kane is so bad at it is because she’s “not a politician”–coincidentally the exact reason people voted for her.

    I don’t see how “resign-to-run” is anything more than a solution in search of a problem.

  9. @Bungy

    Liberals have better sex. We are not stiff and phony like Mitt Romney. Walking around with your shirt buttoned all the way up to the top past your Adam’s Apple.

  10. Why are you liberals obsessed with porn. I always thought you guys were part of the it was only sex gang. Let me get this straight, it was cool for Clinton to have sex in the oval office, but watching porn is the end of the world.

  11. Observer-

    If Carpenter and or Carluccio are involved in the emails then there is a clear conflict of interest in going after Kane.

  12. The PA judiciary is one of the most powerful, and corrupt, forces on the planet. These people are literally like demigods. What they say goes, without repercussion. If they don’t like you, or a political boss who put them in office doesn’t like you, and you happen to be in a nomination petition litigation fight, you’re screwed. If you are someone like Kane and have pissed off the wrong people on the other side of the aisle, you are screwed. Just ask Bob Surrick, among others.

  13. Well, Elroy, that gag order was issued by the very same political hack/judge who is behind the witchhunt: Carpenter of Montgomery County. by the original terms, he even ordered that the EXISTENCE of the gag order not be mentioned – can you believe it? S don’t expect him to lift it, nor the Republican majority on the state supreme court. My guess is that he or Carluccio were also recipients of the porn emails… or senders.

  14. We must all be thankful that Kathleen Kane in the election of 2012 ended the 32-year control of the Office of Attorney General (OAG) by Republicans. Any Democrat to break that culture would have faced the same questionable prosecutions, 20 million destroyed internal emails and an extensive trail of pornography in the workplace.

    Part of the Bigger Problem is the judiciary sealing the details of the OAG pornography scandal uncovered by AG Kathleen Kane. When will the gag order be lifted so the public can learn the full details of the pornography scandal?

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