Karen Heller: A reason for Democrats to heed primary

Posted: March 25, 2012

Regional Democrats may be inclined to skip the polls April 24, given the paucity of contested primary races and so much focused on the GOP presidential candidates, but that would be a mistake.

Republicans own the store in Harrisburg, and Tom Corbett, who ran on his attorney general record of prosecuting conniving legislators - always a crowd-pleaser - has turned out to be the most conservative governor in modern history.

In 15 months, Corbett and the GOP-controlled legislature have taken a battering ram to basic civil rights. Gun owners are free to use deadly force anywhere in self-defense - and look how well the gated-castle doctrine worked in Florida. Voting rights are more restricted, disenfranchising the poor and minorities. And a woman's uterus is increasingly considered the commonwealth's purview.

I don't know about you, but this is not my Pennsylvania, the birthplace of liberty and cradle of tolerance.

What's needed is a strong state prosecutor, an independent Democrat, who is going to challenge legislation and proposed bills before the GOP successfully regulates the state back to 1964 - that is, 1964 Alabama. Back then, the commonwealth was governed by a moderate Republican.

Since 1980, when Pennsylvania first elected attorneys general, no Democrat has won the office. That's largely because, unlike the Republicans, the party hasn't run former district attorneys or federal prosecutors. Corbett appointee Linda Kelly, who is stepping down, is the lone woman to hold the position.

Pennsylvania is terrible about electing women to higher office, as I've frequently noted. We need more women to start challenging such regressive politics, especially after the legislature - only 17 percent female - became so obsessed with our ovaries.

Former Lackawanna County Assistant D.A. Kathleen Kane is running for attorney general against former two-term U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy. It's the first elected office she has ever run for and, as she says, "the only one I want."

Kane, 45, is smart, energetic, direct, experienced, and just as upset as many of us are about Harrisburg. "Our rights are coming under attack. They're violating our constitutional rights," she says. "I'd like to know how they would feel with a 10-inch wand stuck up them taking photos of their insides."

She has been highly critical of why the Sandusky investigation, launched when Corbett was attorney general, progressed at such a dilatory pace, three years.

"The second you hear about alleged child abuse, it is your job to stop it before it festers. No good prosecutor would ask for a grand jury investigation, because it moves too slowly. I never once asked for one," Kane says of her 13 years as a prosecutor trying hundreds of abuse cases. "This was either blunt inexperience or blatant politics."

Kane views the attorney general "as the most powerful consumer advocate, looking out for mortgage fraud and banking fraud. We can go after financial crimes," she says. "We need to also look at the environmental crimes and what's going on with Marcellus Shale."

After Philadelphian Dan McCaffery dropped out of the A.G.'s race in January, and given that city politics are always extra-super local, the Democratic machine endorsed Murphy, 38, born in the Northeast and a Bucks County resident. An Iraq war veteran, Murphy is a former JAG attorney. This is his fourth race in six years.

The only Republican candidate is Cumberland County D.A. David Freed, son-in-law of LeRoy S. Zimmerman, the state's first elected attorney general and former chairman of the board of the Hershey Trust Co., now under investigation by - wait for it - the Attorney General's Office.

There's much to commend Murphy, a former West Point law professor and rising political star. But he's never prosecuted a case in Pennsylvania, and it's hard to know what office he's pursuing. "The governor of Pennsylvania has failed Pennsylvania's families," he said, campaigning recently. "As attorney general, I'll always protect the middle class from attacks."

Murphy has independently raised more funds, and garnered many more endorsements, while Kane has more cash available, about $2 million - Murphy has $1.2 million - due to a sizable loan from her husband, whose family owns a successful Scranton-based trucking and logistics business.

"I don't have special interests supporting me," she said. "That makes me independent. I'm not part of the political machine. I don't want to be part of the good ol' boy network. The office is independent for a reason."

Independent, experienced, female, exclusively interested in being attorney general and restoring our civil rights. Works for me.

Contact Karen Heller

at 215-854-2586 or kheller@phillynews.com, or follow on Twitter @kheller.

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