Kathleen Kane’s Bad Choices

Her job requires politics and policing. The evidence says she can’t do both.

AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

AP Photo | Bradley C. Bower

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 threat to sue the Inquirer for its reporting.

• 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.

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  • smokeybandit

    Why didn’t Corbett get this much scrutiny as AG?

    • ap

      he was a very good AG, thats why… just not a good gov

      • Fuzziness

        Mmmm I wouldn’t go that far, but he knew how to stay out of the crosshairs. Kane wants to be famous so she’s always looking for ways to stand out and that’s what gets her screwed up.

        But let’s talk about what Mathis is suggesting. Losing the lt. Governor doesn’t make a lot of sense at all, because there has to be succession and someone to preside over the state senate; but that person should run with the governor. The AG should be an appointee – and I agree with Joel wholeheartedly on that…plus the state should lead outward with term limits, and change the house election cycle from 2 to 3 years so those folks aren’t focused on elections 14 months out of every term and they can actually be effective. PA used to be a pioneering state legislatively, but now everyone is worried about the next election…like crabs in a barrel. Change could happen if people came out to vote, but our state’s election turnout is horrific at best. So frustrating sometimes.

  • NS

    She is completely in over her head and out of her league.

  • Vernon Bell

    The office should not be political at all. The person who decides “who gets charged, and who gets sued” should not be out raising campaign funds. Law enforcement should be unconnected with electoral politics.

  • mariar56

    I totally agree w/ NS below. But I could see it when she was running. The one thing I will say for her about the Sandusky case is this. I’ve always felt that Corbett or someone probably buried the needed info. I have no doubt about that, But then again it would take a lot of courage to go up against that machine w/ their white washing. Let’s get real. Penn State white washed it. I’m sure Corbett just picked up a brush.

  • J

    Yes, the plan to cut the size of the most overworked courts in the country is just fantastic for Pennsylvania justice!