There’s a proposal floating around Harrisburg that would downsize our bloated Pennsylvania government: It would cut seats from both the legislature and judiciary, and eliminate the lieutenant governor’s office entirely. All of which sounds fine to me — and in fact, could go one step farther.
It’s time to make the attorney general’s office a little less prominent.
I say take it from the list of elected offices in Pennsylvania and treat it like they do at the federal level: Let the governor appoint, with confirmation coming from the legislative branch. Let the attorney general end up being more of a career bureaucrat than a career politician. Make it the capstone to a career instead of a stepping stone. Insulate the office, just a little bit, from the bump and grind of our partisan political battles.
Why? Because Kathleen Kane, is why.
There was a lot of excitement a couple of years back when she — almost unexpectedly — became attorney general. But there’s a growing amount of evidence that Kane can’t handle the dual nature of the office as it’s currently arranged: One of the top political jobs in the state, as well as being an impartial purveyor of justice.
The signs go back to the now-infamous abandoned sting. Even if one takes Kane at her word that she didn’t like the case against five Philadelphia Democrats caught on tape taking unreported cash and gifts — and let’s give her the benefit of the doubt on that for the moment — her response to the Inquirer’s story about that choice, and the subsequent criticism that erupted after the story, lacked the (ahem) gravitas you’d expect of your state’s top law enforcement official, but might’ve been perfect for an attention-seeking elbow-throwing ward-leader somewhere.
Two moments that have been low-lights:
• Her “double-dog dare” to Philly D.A. Seth Williams to prosecute the case if he loved it so much, anyway.
(And, by the way, whatever else you think of Williams, he’s handled that dare masterfully. By handing over the case file to a grand jury, he’s given every appearance of pursuing the case — while at the same time giving himself room not to prosecute if the grand jury decides Kane was right and doesn’t return indictments.)
All that’s been mannerly and adult compared to her pursuit of Gov. Tom Corbett. There’s not much love lost for Corbett in these parts, but it’s easily argued that he’s deserved better treatment than what he’s received from his successor.
That treatment goes back to 2012, when Kane was running for Corbett’s old job. She suggested — apparently without evidence, based mostly on a hunch — that Corbett had delayed the prosecution of Jerry Sandusky in order to curry favor with Penn State and the army of Joe Paterno acolytes then running the show.
And when her office’s report came out this week saying, no, there was no purposeful dragging of heels — and do read the report, if you can, because it was written by an underling and (probably not coincidentally) is a model of even-handedness — Kane pressed the case anyway. “The facts show an inexcusable lack of urgency in charging and stopping a serial child predator,” she said.
A wiser official — or at least a wiser official accused of letting fellow party members walk free on corruption allegations — might’ve released the report, let it play itself out in the news for the next day or so, then let it recede into history. Instead, Kathleen Kane apparently wants to keep having this debate, and apparently is only barely interested in nailing down the facts first.
The nature of her job incentivizes this behavior. When you’re in politics, it’s easier to attract supporters and donors when you’re picking on a high-ranking member of another party — especially one facing a troublesome re-election — than it is to be a hard-working steward of your post.
The problem? There’s nothing about politics that enhances the administration of justice. And Kane’s showing little sign she knows where one ends and the other begins.
So tear it apart. Pull the attorney general from the list of elected offices and entrust the office to well-meaning career bureaucrats. Yeah, there will still be political elements to the job — that’s government for ya — but a bit of insulation from the day-to-day headwinds of the political process can only help.
Find @JoelMMathis on Twitter.