Kathleen Kane’s troubles and what they tell us

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, once a rising star in the Democratic party, had a 2014 that rivals the Philadelphia 76ers’ season for sheer pathos.

    Is Calamity Kane finished?

    Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane, once a rising star in the Democratic party, had a 2014 that rivals the Philadelphia 76ers’ season for sheer pathos.

    It reached a crescendo last week when the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office charged two politicians with bribery in the corruption probe that  Kane had said was un-prosecutable for a bunch of reasons that seem pretty well refuted now.

    Kane said in March there was documentary evidence of racial bias in the probe – none turned up. She’d said you couldn’t get the confidential informant on the sting into court to testify because her predecessors had dropped a host of criminal charges against him and lost their leverage. In fact there was a plea agreement that said he’d get off only if he testified as required by the government.

    There were several other public statements she made this year on subjects including Sandusky child abuse probe she later had to walk back from. And she’s now lawyered-up to respond to a grand jury investigation into whether her office leaked secret grand jury materials to embarrass a critic.

    And last week U.S. Rep. Bob Brady, chairman of the Philadelphia Democratic party, publicly criticized Kane, saying it seemed she’d been “asleep at the switch” in the sting investigation.

    A political goner?

    Kane said in a recent interview she plans to run for re-election, and a lot of people reacted with a wide-eyed, “is she serious?”

    But when I say a lot of people, I’m talking about political junkies who follow state politics closely. Most voters don’t. I spoke recently with an avid Kane supporter who told me there’s polling data as recent as October showing she’s viewed more favorably than unfavorably among voters who know who she is.

    This supporter said Kane has less a political problem than a Philadelphia Inquirer problem. The Inquirer broke the story that Kane had killed the sting investigation in March, and ever since has been very energetic in following up that and other Kane-related stories.

    It’s typical for a media organization that breaks a big story to aggressively follow up on it, because they’re well-sourced and want to document the fruits of their work. And, yes, that’s useful in their future submissions for journalistic prizes. But they aren’t making this stuff up.

    When re-election time comes, if Kane has the family money she had in her 2010 race to buy TV ads, I wouldn’t count her out. On the other hand, while her problems are better known to insiders than the public, insiders matter for organizational support, especially in a party primary, and in fundraising all year. We’ll see.

    Who picks these people?

    As I reflect on the trouble Kane’s gotten into this year by over-reaching when answering critics, and the harsh language Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams and his people used when speaking about her last week,  a question occurs to me: why do we elect prosecutors?

    I haven’t researched it or thought deeply about this, but I notice that you rarely hear federal prosecutors, who are appointed, engaging in this kind of public sniping. On the state level, prosecutors are elected, so we end up with politician-prosecutors.

    When I wrote a while back that I thought an elected school board was a bad idea, some people jumped all over me on Twitter, saying I didn’t trust the people. Okay, if we trust voters to pick the best public officials, maybe we should elect the police commissioner. Or district police captains? After all, they should be close to the neighborhood and thus responsive to voters. In fact, maybe we should have voters decide guilt or innocence in high-profile cases with on-line voting.

    Seriously, there’s a line to draw about which public officials we elect and which we don’t. There’s no magic to it, but I think electing judges is a bad idea, and recent events make me wonder about elected county DA’s and the state attorney general. I know appointing officials isn’t free from politics either, but when you have DA’s and AG’s who know they always have another election ahead, it affects them. Just a thought.

    (I was proud of having come up with the “Calamity Kane” line until I Googled and found the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette used it in a November editorial. I guess somebody’s following this in western Pennsylvania, too.)

     

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