Politically Uncorrected: The Tragedy of Kathleen Kane

kane-sad2What to think about the precipitous fall of Attorney General Kathleen Kane – one the New York Times has labeled “the swiftest and steepest in memory, even in a state where corruption in politics is as common as the housefly”?

Kane was criminally charged Thursday by Montgomery County DA Risa Vetri Ferman in connection with a statewide Grand Jury investigation. She faces five felony counts including obstruction, official oppression, conspiracy and perjury.

Under intense pressure to resign, Kane so far refuses to do so and she is entitled to a presumption of innocence. But while her legal fate is unknown, her political fate is now sealed.

Where does the Kane saga belong in the notorious annals of Pennsylvania’s disgraced politicians?

At first blush it might seem to belong to the inglorious history of corruption blazed by so many state politicians back to the Civil War Era. Enough Pennsylvania politicians have gone to jail to fill a small prison. In modern times alone, scores of elected officials have been convicted, pleaded guilty or left office because of crimes they committed.

Some periods were worse than others. In the 1970’s corrupt officials were so common that frequent references were made to the “crook-of the-month club.”

More recently, schemes to convert public dollars to political campaigns have been a main source of public corruption and wrecked political careers. The recent “bonus gate” defendants convicted of misusing public employees and resources for campaigning illustrate this type of corruption.

But Pennsylvania’s often squalid politics offers little perspective on the political demise of Kathleen Kane.  The Kane saga doesn’t fit the corruption narrative at all. Her story echoes none of Pennsylvania’s sordid history of fraud and graft.

If not corruption, then what did bring down someone who two years ago was one of the most celebrated politicians in the state, believed by many to be on a career trajectory that would land her in the governor’s office or higher?

Close analysis of her tenure suggests four main factors responsible for her fall. Both singly and collectively they comprise a modern Greek tragedy. The strengths which first brought Kane to office morphed into the fatal flaws that finally brought her to disaster.

  • TEMPERAMENT – Kane often seemed to lack the temperament needed to fulfill the duties of a statewide elected official. Her many and much documented quarrels with senior aides and consultants are illustrative (she has had seven press secretaries in her brief tenure). Probably most revealing was her long running feud with Frank Fina, who was in charge of the Jerry Sandusky case. Many of Kane’s problems seem directly linked to discrediting Fina.
  • INEXPERIENCE – many of her early problems can be traced to her lack of public experience.  Prior to her election she worked as an assistant DA in Lackawanna County, which provided experience as a prosecutor.  But she lacked managerial skills in running a large complex department, or in the hiring and organizing of a large high-level staff. Typically, statewide office in Pennsylvania is only achieved after years of experience in local government or the legislature. Yet, Kane had never ran for any office or served in any capacity at the state level before her election.
  • BAD POLITICAL JUDGEMENT – Kane exhibited poor political judgement almost from the beginning, early on shutting down a promising corruption investigation, awkwardly threatening to sue a Philadelphia paper for printing unflattering stories about her, and ignoring staff advice again and again. Her stunning refusal to prosecute a sting operation involving four Philadelphia lawmakers and a traffic court judge – four of whom were successfully prosecuted by the Philadelphia district attorney – particularly hurt her, leaving the impression she was politically motivated as well as lacking prosecutorial discretion. The appearance of blatant partisanship was even more evident in her handling of the porn email scandal that engulfed her office – initially releasing only the names of individuals with ties to Frank Fina and former Attorney General and Governor Tom Corbett.
  • POLITICAL ENEMIES – Kane in office embodied what one political scientist has called the “paranoid style in American politics.” But she did accumulate some real political enemies as well. Kane believed the state’s male dominated political establishment was threatened by her historic victory as the first elected woman attorney general in the state. While there is little evidence of a conspiracy against her, one still has to ask if a male in the office, especially one tied to the old boys’ network, would be in this kind of trouble. The charge that first unhorsed her – leaking testimony from a grand jury – is common and rarely prosecuted.  Former Governor Rendell has pointed out the farcical nature of the charges against her, noting that the grand jury recommendation to indict her was itself leaked.

In the end, Kane’s political demise was death by a thousand cuts.   Lack of experience in high office, aggravated by bad judgement, a temperament ill-suited for state politics, and the tendency to make enemies early and often doomed her.

Like the classic Greek tragedy she embodies, it is hard to see how her story could have turned out differently. That for Kathleen Kane is the biggest tragedy of all.

14 Responses

  1. Of course the media gave her a free ride as the new type of Democrat who will demolish the old-boy way of doing business. Hey! That’s a powerful narrative. Now that her career path is fraught with difficulty, the new narrative is that of a toppled figure. Media did some what of the same with Ernie Preate. Here’s the difference. Now that Kane is in deep water, she is just the Attorney General, not the Democratic Attorney General. When Preate had his turn, the media pointed to the REPUBLICAN DISCREDITED ATTORNEY GENERAL. A little media bias here? My point is not to magnify Kane’s party affiliation but simply to point out that the media bias is evident.

  2. Hoosegow, bungy, hoosegow. It’s a corruption of the Spanish “juzgado”, a panel of judges or a courtroom and the past participle of “juzgar”, to judge.

  3. Signor,
    Does anyone actually click on that tumbleweeded website of yours anymore? Do you have anymore Bonus Gate money left?

  4. Corrupt officials can get away with anything is the Fifth Estate is incurious, lazy and slow. And we’re not talking about Kane; we’re referring to Frank Fina, who conjured this entire circus as a distraction from his own misdeeds. It’s shameful that he’s succeeded.

  5. Court Watcher– Somehow I missed that. Not prosecuting Parks Miller is enough to disqualify Kane in and of itself.

  6. I for one am glad that leaders are not given a pass when they wield public power for their own illegal purposes.

  7. You misspelled “judgment” twice, but otherwise spot on.

    Hey Diano, leaking grand jury materials is one thing, but lying to a grand jury is another. Nothing farcical about that. It’s always the cover-up that brings the down.

  8. Can’t believe I’m saying this, but she actually should have listened to…Richard Nixon:

    “Always remember, others may hate you, but those who hate you don’t win unless you hate them, and then you destroy yourself.”

  9. Someone should be writing about the parallels between her case and that of Centre Co. D.A. Stacy Parks Miller. Like Kane, she claims the boys have been mean to her and damaged her good name, without taking any personal responsibility for the damage she’s done to that county’s court system. Only a week ago, Kane cleared her by refusing to have that Grand Jury bring any charges. She did concede SPM had abused county staff time and equipment in her campaign finance filings, but found that insignificant. Joan Orie Melvin and the Bonusgate boys must be amazed the current AG can’t take seriously the very crimes that got them convicted.

  10. “The Kane saga doesn’t fit the corruption narrative at all. Her story echoes none of Pennsylvania’s sordid history of fraud and graft.”

    And

    “The charge that first unhorsed her – leaking testimony from a grand jury – is common and rarely prosecuted. Former Governor Rendell has pointed out the farcical nature of the charges against her, noting that the grand jury recommendation to indict her was itself leaked.”

    EXACTLY ! !

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