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Pa.’s incoming attorney general vows to be an activist

The first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, said she had another first in mind Tuesday night when pressed for her priorities for her new office.

The first woman and first Democrat elected attorney general of Pennsylvania, Kathleen Kane, said she had another first in mind Tuesday night when pressed for her priorities for her new office.

"First, I want to sleep in," she said with a wink.

Of course, the 46-year-old former assistant prosecutor has a host of other items on her to-do list: working to tighten the state's gun laws, beefing up enforcement against child predators, and becoming an aggressive consumer advocate.

But as she prepares to take office in January, Kane promised an approach that could rattle the china in Harrisburg.

"It's the role of the attorney general to be an independently elected voice," she said early Wednesday. "People see politics as a close-knit, good ol' boy network, and I want to change that starting Day One."

Kane is to assume control of an office with a staff of about 700 and an $81 million budget.

And while much was made of her sex and party in describing her victory Tuesday, she differs from past candidates Pennsylvanians have elected to the office in other, less-remarked-upon ways.

She has pledged to actively lobby the legislature on law enforcement issues and has raised the possibility of handling the office's highest-profile cases in the courtroom herself.

"Women bring a different voice and a different perspective to these issues," she said Wednesday.

Since the attorney general's post became an elected row office in 1980, the job has been held by a succession of men cut from the same cloth - former district attorneys or federal prosecutors, all with long records in the courtroom and most with time spent behind a desk managing the bureaucracy of law enforcement.

Most have viewed the office as a springboard to higher office, including Gov. Corbett. He was first elected to the post in 2004 after a stint as U.S. attorney in the state's western district and left six years later to launch his gubernatorial bid.

Kane, a scrappy campaigner who regaled crowds during the race with tales of her hands-on involvement in the cases, has said she has no interest in another elected post and offered voters a different model - a prosecutor pure and simple.

She describes courtroom battles, not politics, as her first love.

"It was never about politics," she said. "It was always about the people."

A mother of two married to the owner of a Scranton-based trucking business, she spent her first three years out of Temple Law School as an associate at the Philadelphia firm Post & Schell.

In 1995, she joined the Lackawanna County District Attorney's Office as an assistant prosecutor handling sex crimes.

In her 12 years there, she never led the office - a resumé hole that her GOP opponent, Cumberland County District Attorney David Freed, flagged over and over during the race.

"I guess it comes down to whether the people of Pennsylvania want a tough prosecutor that has been out on the street or a bureaucrat," she often replied.

But, throughout the campaign, Kane went further than highlighting differences between herself and her predecessors. She outright antagonized some of them - especially Corbett.

Kane made criticizing the governor for his handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex-abuse investigation a central plank of her campaign and accused him of putting the case on the back burner while he ran for higher office in 2010.

She said Wednesday she would begin a promised review of the case on her first day in office.

"We need to clean up Harrisburg," she said. "We need to make sure that our good people who are serving have the support that they need."

Corbett, talking to reporters Tuesday at results watching parties in Harrisburg, bristled at the prospect of serving alongside her.

"She's the one who turned the Attorney General's Office political," he said.

Whether the governor likes it or not, here comes Kathleen Kane.