Politics, the saying goes, is all about timing.
If that is so, State Representative Daryl Metcalfe was a man ahead of his time when last year he introduced a measure calling for the impeachment of state Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Metcalfe based his call for the attorney general’s removal on her refusal to defend the state’s statute prohibiting same sex marriage. The specific statute aside, defending existing state laws is a core duty for a state attorney general. Failing to do so was indeed a dereliction.
Metcalfe’s efforts went nowhere, but a string of recent events have eroded confidence in the attorney general who has at a minimum engaged in bizarre behavior and verbal miscues and, at worse, may herself be a law-breaker for having potentially violated grand jury secrecy provisions. Even the news media, which hailed her as the second coming of Barack Obama, has fallen out of love. Many now question her ability to continue in office.
It is true most Pennsylvanians don’t wake up in the morning thinking about their attorney general. Although it has risen above the other statewide constitutional offices (treasurer and auditor general) in profile, the attorney general is not generally subject to the same media scrutiny as governors and U.S. Senators.
But, since Pennsylvania attorneys general frequently try and sometimes succeed in achieving higher office, their performance is worth noting. After her solid election victory in 2012 Kane herself was viewed as a rising star. Like Ernie Preate, Mike Fisher and Tom Corbett before her she was expected to seek higher office. Now there are doubts she will even finish her current term.
For those who are unaware, the Office of Attorney General holds significant power. The attorney general is not merely an elected paper pusher. He or she is vested with sweeping investigatory power, including the ability to authorize wiretaps and to prosecute. We task our attorneys general with everything from fighting illegal drugs to rooting out Medicaid fraud. We trust them with overseeing our state’s charitable organizations, and count on them to work cooperatively with local police. This is a serious office conducting serious business.
But the evidence now reveals the current occupant is not up to the task.
Several weeks ago Attorney General Kane was injured when her official state car crashed into another vehicle. Weeks went by before the media, and by extension the public, were made aware of the incident. Interestingly, the timing was intertwined with an investigation into leaks of grand jury information in which the attorney general was expected to testify. Such leaks are a crime, so if it is proven Kane was a party to them she likely would be compelled to leave office immediately.
Then there is the issue of competency. After exploiting the Jerry Sandusky scandal for political advantage her office concluded then Attorney General Tom Corbett acted appropriately in conducting the investigation. She declined to prosecute after a sting operation found several Philadelphia lawmakers allegedly taking bribes. The Philadelphia District Attorney is now on the case. Kane zigged and zagged on the e-mail porn scandal, ultimately claiming some of the e-mails contained borderline child pornography. Her office retracted that statement, but not before it made national news. Kane and her office received yet another black eye when they cut a plea bargain with former Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission executives indicted under her predecessor. They received no jail time for their misdeeds.
The question now is: what next? If Kane is found to have leaked grand jury information she will clearly have to resign. If she is exonerated there will be no criminal charge, but the state will be left with an attorney general who has failed to uphold state law, refused to follow-up on investigations, left corrupt government officials off easy, and has a penchant for mis-speaking.
The simple solution would be for her to resign and allow incoming governor Tom Wolf to appoint her successor. That would take partisan politics out of the equation. Or, she could limp through the next two years leaving it up to voters to decide whether or not to give her a second term.
Or perhaps, someone could place a call to Daryl Metcalfe.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. He is a former executive assistant to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)
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