Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane won election resoundingly four years ago, as well as the Inquirer's endorsement, promising to be a "prosecutor, not a politician." She proved to be not much of either, botching a series of high-profile corruption cases and the ensuing political controversies. Having narrowly survived a justified effort to remove her from office, Kane is ending her term on the wrong end of a criminal prosecution, charged with violating grand jury secrecy to smear a rival.
In retrospect, greater reservations should have attached to Kane's moderate experience as a prosecutor - encompassing a dozen years as a Lackawanna County assistant district attorney - and her dearth of political and executive experience. The attorney general is not only a law enforcer but the head of a 700-employee agency, the commonwealth's chief legal representative, a consumer and public-contracts watchdog, and one of Pennsylvania's most important politicians.
Fortunately, Kane's would-be successors comprise enough political, executive, and law enforcement experience to restore the office's decimated credibility.
Stephen Zappala, Allegheny County's district attorney since 1998 and a member of a powerful Western Pennsylvania family, has a record of law enforcement leadership, an avid interest in improving police procedures, and support from Philadelphia's Democratic establishment. Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, who boasts an even longer tenure than Zappala's, is reprising the prosecutorial approach to politics seen in his previous pugnacious but unsuccessful bids for the office.
But the Democrats' most compelling candidate, with a record of competent management, political independence, and reform-mindedness, is JOSH SHAPIRO. As chairman of the Montgomery County commissioners, he has shown he can inherit a fiscal and political mess and restore order. He has worked with the opposite party in that post and a precocious stint as a state representative, which also saw him take a bold stand for integrity in defiance of Democratic leaders. His campaign has appropriately emphasized ethics and the untapped potential of the Attorney General's Office to advocate forward-looking environmental and education policy.
Shapiro's chief weakness is his opponents' strength: law enforcement experience. He would have to hire senior deputies who make up for that shortcoming.
Republican primary voters confront a parallel choice between a law enforcement veteran and an accomplished politician. Joe Peters, an alumnus of the attorney general's staff and the White House drug czar's, has a formidable resumé extending to his years as a federal prosecutor and police officer. But State Sen. JOHN RAFFERTY possesses the political seasoning and pragmatic bent to make the Attorney General's Office work again. The Montgomery County native distinguished himself as a politically courageous problem-solver by championing legislation to raise fuel taxes and restore dangerously depleted transportation funds. He has also accumulated extensive knowledge of law enforcement policy on the Judiciary Committee and worked as a deputy attorney general and lawyer in private practice.
Rafferty's place in Harrisburg's political establishment does give pause as to his ability to take on political corruption. But he has shown strong ethical instincts by forswearing legislative perks and working to rein in the wayward Delaware River Port Authority.
Given the current condition of the Attorney General's Office, the caliber of the candidates provides cause for novel optimism about its future.