Who Should Replace Kane?


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Northampton County DA John Morganelli would like to be AG again.

I don’t believe Kathleen Kane can be re-elected as Pennsylvania’s Attorney General. Let’s forget what I want to happen for a moment, I don’t think she can be re-elected. That means Pennsylvania is going to have a new top law enforcement official. That might happen any day, if Kane were to resign, or in the medium term if she were convicted or removed from office before the end of her term. It also might not happen until January of 2017.

I’m going to basically ignore any appointment here, because the only qualification I have for an appointment by Governor Wolf is that they are a competent prosecutor who doesn’t make him look bad. My ex-boss Lynne Abraham’s name does come up in this, as do others, and I think she’d be fine, as would the other names mentioned. An appointee doesn’t mean much to me, because next year we’ll be electing a new AG anyway. That person will get a four year term, and have the opportunity to do things.

The last AG’s race was waged almost entirely about Tom Corbett and Jerry Sandusky. Kane was able to slam the governor, and his handling of that case, and it carried her to a landslide win. I think neither Corbett or Sandusky will be much of an issue in this race. I do have some other issues in mind though:

  • Regulating the fossil fuel industry, especially fracking with all tools available under law. Unfortunately the Feds may have more tools to use here, but this is a key.
  • Public corruption will be a major issue. Between the situation in Allentown, former state Treasurer McCord, and Chaka Fattah’s situation (to name a few), public corruption is going to be in the news during this race.
  • The issues surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, and policing in general will be a part of this race. Stop and Frisk, body cameras, and militarized police forces will be front and center here.
  • De-Criminalization of marijuana and the “war on drugs” in general will be issues that matter in this race.
  • LGBT rights, and defending them against “religious liberty” charges will be heavily debated.
  • Industrialized prisons, and situations like the “Kids for Cash” scandal in Luzerne County deserve to be debated.
  • The enforcement of immigration law will be debated heavily in the primary, let alone the general.
  • The role of a prosecutor- be it to enforce the laws on the books, or to fight rules they don’t like and not defend them- will be debated heavily.
  • Last, but not least, should the AG step into constitutional questions more- potentially on gerrymandering re-districting, or funding formulas for education that create “separate but equal” districts.

That’s a lot of issues obviously, way more than most voters will consider, but they seem to be most of what the activists and insiders will look at first in vetting the candidates to replace Kane. It appears to me that the Republicans are settling around State Senator John Rafferty, at least for the moment. In Rafferty, you get a rather boilerplate Republican from the ‘burbs. He’ll fight against any regulation by the government, he’ll defend mandatory minimum sentences, and he’ll defend policing policies like “stop and frisk,” at least so far as I can tell going into the race. I don’t see a lot of surprise coming from Rafferty.

On the Democratic side, I see a real race brewing. Northampton County’s own District Attorney, John Morganelli, apparently wants to run for the seat. There are a few issues where I don’t totally see eye-to-eye with Morganelli, particularly on immigration, but I think he’s a tough and fair prosecutor who has done an excellent job at the county, overseeing an era of relatively solid public safety in the county. Morganelli won’t be alone though. Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro would be the conventional favorite if he got into the race, and he’s done an outstanding job as a commissioner there. The flaw with Shapiro will be his lack of prosecutorial experience, something I suspect he will also cite as a strength. Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams will almost certainly be talked about, particularly because of his recent string of prosecuting public corruption, and his awful relationship with Kane. Williams is a very polarizing figure in politics though, with his positions on issues like the death penalty being a negative to primary voters, and his Philadelphia roots being a tough sell to voters around the state. Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen A. Zappala Jr. is also being discussed, and he could be a very interesting candidate coming out of Pittsburgh in a statewide race full of Eastern candidates. I have to confess to not knowing a ton about Zappala though. Finally, you can’t discount a Kane run for re-election from happening, especially in a crowded field. I don’t think we’ll see former Congressman Patrick Murphy try after his recent appointment as Under-Secretary of the Army being announced, but you can’t count him out yet.

Obviously not all of these names will enter this race. This field is likely to be winnowed down a bit before next May. Kane’s problems though should have Democrats already thinking about the issues that lie ahead, and the field of candidates rising to take them on. This state committee meeting in September will actually be our final meeting before we endorse in this race in 2016. I hope to see a lot of these candidates there, and to get to hear from them on the issues.

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