No, Kathleen Kane Scandal Is Not a “Blow to Women”

Pennsylvania politics were corrupt long before women started winning elections.


Let’s get one thing straight very quickly: Kathleen Kane‘s indictment on charges she leaked secret grand jury materials is a shame, an embarrassment to a state that has no shortage of reasons to be embarrassed, and just plain bad.

But none of that has anything to do with her gender.

Obvious, right? But this is Pennsylvania, where Kane is just one of two women we’ve ever elected to statewide office and where no women are currently in Congress, which means that females who can win a few votes — bizarrely in 2015 — are pioneers in their field, and thus judged not on their own performances, but on how well they represent their underrepresented group.

Which in means we end up with stories where Sen. Pat Vance, a Republican woman with 40 years of electoral politics under her belt, laments about Kane: “I felt very badly when she was charged, even though we’re not in the same political party, because it’s such a blow to women.”

Understandable. And wrong.

Do we judge all male politicians by Vincent Fumo? Or Ernie Preate? Or the dudes at the center of a zillion other Pennsylvania scandals? Corruption is a defining feature of this state’s political culture — a woman comes along and shows that she’s (allegedly) as petty, venal and image-obsessed as any of the men who’ve occupied her office and we’re supposed to prepare for gender blowback?

Something’s not quite right with this picture.

There’s one way that Kane’s gender might fit into all this, and this is it: She’s clearly not part of Harrisburg’s boys club. You remember — the one that was passing porn around at the highest levels of government. The end result is that the woman stands accused of leaking grand jury secrets — and that a huge chunk of the coverage of the scandal, until last week, was driven by the leaking of grand jury secrets. If there’s a manhunt for the leaker of those secrets, well, that might be the first state grand jury secret the public didn’t know about in a very long time.

Don’t misunderstand: It certainly appears Kane brought trouble, and plenty of it, on herself. But that’s kind of the point. It’s her thing. Not a woman thing.

All of this is worth mentioning now that Katie McGinty is preparing to be the next pioneer, challenging Democrat Joe Sestak to run for Republican Pat Toomey’s seat in the U.S. Senate. So it’s worth noting what makes her different, already, from Kane: She’s got a track record — of public service at the state and federal levels, to Governors Rendell and Wolf, as well as to President Clinton — as well as a statewide campaign experience from her ill-fated (but high-energy) gubernatorial run last year. Not for nothing, she doesn’t appear to have a “boys club” problem, either: The Democratic establishment practically begged her to run this race, and is pulling out the big guns now that she has.

Kane, meanwhile, ran for office with more money and charisma than actual experience. In retrospect, that should’ve been a warning sign. Perhaps in the future it will be.

But it also proves the folly in trying to see Kane’s travails as a blow for women. We wouldn’t even be comparing Kane and McGinty if it weren’t for their shared gender, because they’re two entirely different types of candidates. Kane’s problem is that she’s a lousy politician. Given Pennsylvania’s political history, more than a few guys should be able to empathize.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.