John Baer: Wait a sec: 2 competent candidates in a Pa. race?

Republican David Freed, left, and Democrat Kathleen Kane, shake hands after a televised debate for the state attorney general's office Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pa. Elections are Nov. 6. (AP Photo/The Patriot-News, Dan Gleiter)
Republican David Freed, left, and Democrat Kathleen Kane, shake hands after a televised debate for the state attorney general's office Monday, Oct. 22, 2012, at Widener University School of Law in Harrisburg, Pa. Elections are Nov. 6. (AP Photo/The Patriot-News, Dan Gleiter) (AP)
Posted: October 25, 2012

AS A VETERAN critic of Pennsylvania politics and most of the people in it, I find myself just a bit flummoxed.

Why, you ask?

Because the race for attorney general offers voters the rarest of opportunities: either one of the major-party candidates would serve them well.

What's that, you say?

Isn't this Pennsylvania, where, of the four elected attorneys general in state history, three used the office to run for governor, one went to prison and the one who didn't run is part of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Attorney General?

(More on that later.)

But in this election, despite some differences and some controversy, the two principal candidates are capable and experienced.

Republican Dave Freed, the district attorney of Cumberland County, outside Harrisburg, and Democrat Kathleen Kane, a former assistant D.A. in Lackawanna County (Scranton), displayed those qualities during their only debate, Monday night in Harrisburg.

(It's to be rebroadcast on PCN Sunday at 2 p.m.; Libertarian candidate Marakay Rogers was invited but did not participate.)

Freed and Kane clash over two hot topics: the Sandusky case and prosecutorial independence.

Kane, a practiced child-abuse prosecutor, says that she'll investigate the Sandusky probe, which she says should not have been done with a grand jury because it took too long.

"It has never taken me 33 months to get a predator, a pedophile off the streets," she said Monday night.

Freed says that he'd "review" the case, but notes that Jerry Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts under the process used, adding, "I would never put a limit on any investigative tool . . . you use what the right tool is for the case."

If anyone pays attention to the race, Kane should benefit from the politics of this. A Franklin & Marshall poll last month said that 65 percent of voters think that then-Attorney General Tom Corbett did only a fair or poor job handling Sandusky.

This leads to Kane's assertion that Freed is Gov. Corbett's "handpicked" candidate and part of an old-boy Harrisburg network that includes his father-in-law, former Attorney General LeRoy Zimmerman, the former head of the Hershey Trust.

(The philanthropic trust is under review for money management, including $17 million spent for a money-losing golf course, the Inquirer has reported.)

When Freed says that he'd appoint special counsel to handle any probe of the trust, Kane fires back: "I am an independent prosecutor and Mr. Freed would have to hire one."

Freed counters that he "must have missed the phone call" from Corbett picking him as a candidate and stresses his 15-year record as a prosecutor, seven as D.A.

Kane, a prosecutor for 12 years, also has family/political ties that draw attention: she helped run Hillary Clinton's '08 primary race in the state; Bill Clinton raised money for Kane; and her family owns a large trucking firm with state contracts that's so successful, her husband put $2 million-plus into her campaign.

Freed takes some hits for not forcefully denouncing a TV ad by a GOP-related political-action committee that inaccurately labeled Kane as being soft on rape and which was withdrawn.

Freed notes that he didn't run the ad, was "very disappointed" in it and could not stop it.

Both candidates gave solid performances during their debate and have strong credentials and reputations.

Freed has experience running a prosecutor's office. Kane has the advantage of a Democratic registration edge and would be the first Democrat and first woman elected to the office.

Philadelphia turnout is crucial for her. If the city turns out for President Obama, it's hard to see how she loses. But, if history's a guide, much of the state likes Republicans in law enforcement, a fact that helps Freed.

Either way - I find myself surprised to say - the office will be well-served.


Contact John Baer at baerj@phillynews.com. For his recent columns, go to philly.com/JohnBaer. Read his blog at philly.com/BaerGrowls.

|
|
|
|
|