Kathleen Kane’s Gay Marriage Mutiny

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

“Lighter or darker?” she asks, reaching for lipstick. “Darker,” her five handlers reply in unison.

Kane is fitting in a videotaping for the upcoming launch of a new attorney general website. Her communications director is approaching it with the seriousness of a Broadway director. He moves the American flag into the picture. He asks her to lay her glasses on the desk. Photos of her kids have been strategically placed behind her. Now he wants her iPhone in the shot as well. “You’re the contemporary attorney general,” he tells her. “Pull your hair back. You look like a pirate.”

You can’t ascend as quickly as Kane and not make a few enemies along the way. And this sort of scene is precisely what Kane’s critics imagine she spends her days doing.

They’ll acknowledge that she’s a natural political talent. But, they go on, she’s a lightweight. She lacks policy chops and the backroom expertise of more experienced pols. She’s another prosecutor, for crissakes, and after Corbett, does anyone want four more years with a governor who’s an expert in criminal procedure but a novice at glad-handing and bullying a legislature? More recently, the critics have zeroed in on Kane’s promotion of her twin sister—who worked in the attorney general’s office years before Kane won her election—to chief of the new child-predator unit.

Though Kane’s sister seems plenty qualified, the nepotism bears watching. But I find the rest of the critique lacking. Yes, Kane is a political amateur, and Corbett has made the political establishment skittish of prosecutors. But in tone and temperament, the two could hardly be more different. Corbett’s a loner. Kane is a charmer. He struggles to make friends; she managed to charm Philadelphia’s political class in a few short months after dispatching with favored son Patrick Murphy. “You don’t just parachute in and within two or three months pick up political and campaign finance support from Philadelphia,” says Alan Kessler, a Duane Morris attorney and prominent Democratic fund-raiser. “But that’s exactly what she did.”

If she does have ambitions beyond the attorney general’s office, Kane would indeed benefit from some further policy study. One doesn’t get the sense, talking to her, that she’s reading the Economist or the Atlantic on those long rides to and from Scranton. She could use a thicker skin when it comes to the press, particularly given that for the most part, the media have been fawning.

But these are quibbles. They’re just the sorts of flaws you’d expect to see in a talented newcomer, or, as Kane describes herself, “a normal person who decided to step up.”