Kathleen Kane’s Gay Marriage Mutiny

How a tough chick from Scranton became Pennsylvania's Attorney General—and Tom Corbett's worst nightmare.

Near 9 a.m. on a mid-August day in the bankrupt city of Harrisburg, the hallways of the state capitol are completely silent. Philadelphia’s school system is in meltdown, the state’s pension system and transportation infrastructure continue their slow-motion collapses, but Pennsylvania’s legislature—the second-highest-paid in the nation—is deep into its two-and-half-month summer recess.

In Room 8A in the east wing, Kane is hovering by the door, downing a large Dunkin Donuts coffee as fast as she can before a routine—and dull—meeting. “Drinks aren’t allowed in the hearing room,” she says, casting a look at the portly capitol police officer at the door. “I really should throw it away, but it’s not in the interest of justice for me to skip this coffee.”

She sighs, then tosses the cup. “I would have let you keep it, you know,” the cop says. “Really?” the state’s chief law enforcement officer asks, in seemingly genuine surprise.

Kane and the other members of the five-person Board of Pardons jam their way through dozens of pardon hearing requests from criminals in the state’s jails. Kane is a tougher audience than most of the board, with her no’s far outnumbering her yes’s.

One of the complaints you hear about Kane is that she’s a politician first and a prosecutor second. But that gets it backward, actually. Kane is far more at home, far more assured, talking strategy with her chief of narcotics investigation than she is fielding questions from reporters about her relationship with Corbett. Reporters rarely ask a rock star like Kane about the humdrum work of the attorney general’s office, but she leaps at the chance. There’s the new child-
pr­edator unit that had already tripled last year’s arrest rate by August. There’s the new mobile street-crimes squad about to deploy with the mission of making life miserable for Mexican drug cartels expanding in Pennsylvania. There’s her push to break down the silos between her agency and federal and local jurisdictions: “The turf wars are ridiculous. I swear it’s like a t-ball game. A kid hits the ball to third base and the entire team runs to it, and there the batter goes, running around the bases,” she says. “It’s just stupid.”

A number of veteran investigators and attorneys quit the office shortly before and after Kane’s arrival, including a good chunk of the anti-corruption unit and those involved in the Sandusky investigation. But the departures were relatively few, and Kane tends to get high marks for her management. Good staffing combined with Kane’s fearlessness is a pretty potent combination. When I ask her if she’s upsetting Harrisburg’s established order on purpose, she answers: “The plan is to get things done. I’m not paralyzed by fear of whether the voters are going to not vote for me in four years. I don’t have that same mentality that some people in Harrisburg have. I’m able to make a decision.”

Which is great. But Kane is careful to tend to her image as well.