February 18, 2016

G. Terry Madonna & Michael L. Young

Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s abrupt announcement that she would not seek a second term almost certainly writes finis - both on her political career, and on Harrisburg’s long running soap opera featuring the state’s first woman attorney general.

Under heavy pressure to resign, Kane so far refuses to do so. She also still faces 12 charges, including two felony counts, alleging a leak of grand jury material while the state legislature may yet move forward with impeachment. But while her legal fate is unknown, her political fate is now sealed.

This one is over--the tale has been told-- fait accompli.

But where does the Kane saga belong in the notorious annals of Pennsylvania’s disgraced politicians?

Certainly, it doesn’t belong as part of the infamous history of corruption blazed by so many state politicians back to the Civil War era. The Kane epic is not about the petty venal corruption or graft that characterized so many past scandals and brought down so many state politicians. 

Nor is it about the more modern abuse of using state resources for campaign purposes, such as the recent “bonus gate “scandals that wrecked so many political careers.
Indeed, Pennsylvania’s often-squalid politics offers little perspective on the political demise of Kathleen Kane. The Kane story doesn’t fit the corruption narrative at all.
If not corruption, then what did bring down someone who three years ago was one of the most celebrated politicians in the state, destined many believed to be a future governor or even a higher office?
It was character not corruption that brought Kane low. In particular four main character traits fated her fall as surely as a classic Greek tragedy. 

  • TEMPERAMENT - Kane often seemed to lack the temperament needed to fulfill the duties of a statewide elected official. Her many and much documented quarrels with senior aides and consultants are illustrative (she has had seven press secretaries in her brief tenure). Probably most revealing was her long running feud with Frank Fina, who handled the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse case. Many of Kane’s problems seem directly linked to discrediting Fina and the fear that he would destroy her tenure as attorney general.


  • INEXPERIENCE – many of her early problems can be traced to her lack of public experience.  Prior to her election she worked as an assistant DA in Lackawanna County, which provided some experience as a prosecutor.  But she lacked managerial skills in running a large complex department. Typically, statewide office in Pennsylvania is only achieved after years of experience in local government or the legislature. Yet, Kane had never ran for any office or served in any elected capacity at the state or county level before her election.


  • BAD POLITICAL JUDGMENT – Kane exhibited poor political judgment almost from the beginning, early on shutting down a promising corruption investigation, awkwardly threatening to sue a Philadelphia paper for printing unflattering stories about her, and ignoring staff advice again and again. Her stunning refusal to prosecute a sting operation involving four Philadelphia lawmakers and a traffic court judge particularly hurt her. The appearance of blatant partisanship was even more evident in her handling of the porn email scandal that engulfed her office – selectively releasing only material linked to persons she apparently hoped to embarrass politically.


  • POLITICAL ENEMIES – Kane in office embodied what one political scientist has called the “paranoid style in American politics.” She believed the state’s male dominated political establishment was conspiring against her. While there is little evidence of a conspiracy, she surely made enemies with her combative take no prisoner’s style. Tellingly, the felony charge that most unhorsed her – leaking testimony from a grand jury – is common and rarely prosecuted. In fact, the grand jury recommendation to indict her was itself leaked.

In the end, Kane’s political demise was more a suicide than a homicide. Still, it’s hard to see how her story might have turned out differently. Lack of experience, made worse by bad judgment, a temperament ill-suited for state politics, and the tendency to make enemies doomed her.

If character is fate, it was her fate to fall. And like a classic Greek tragedy, she met that fate.


Politically Uncorrected™ is published twice monthly, and previous columns can be viewed at http://www.fandm.edu/politics. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any institution or organization with which they are affiliated. This article may be used in whole or part only with appropriate attribution. Copyright © 2016 Terry Madonna and Michael Young.