New Castle News

Closer Look

December 31, 2012

Kane win, Specter death mark state politics in 2012

HARRISBURG — Some things that stirred much political discussion in Pennsylvania in 2012 did not materialize — a photo ID requirement for voters, legislative redistricting, a high-profile role for the state in the presidential race.

But there was hardly a drought of statewide political news.

Democratic newcomer Kathleen Kane was elected attorney general, ending voters’ 32-year-old habit of exclusively choosing Republican men as Pennsylvania’s chief legal officer. She is the first woman elected to the post since it became an elective office in 1980.

The former Lackawanna County prosecutor was the top vote-getter in the general election, more than Obama or Democratic Sen. Bob Casey, who defeated Republican millionaire Tom Smith to win a second term. Kane beat GOP nominee David Freed, the Cumberland County district attorney, by 14.5 percentage points.

Kane, of Scranton, and Auditor General-elect Eugene DePasquale, a Democratic former state representative from York, won two open statewide “row offices” while Democratic state Treasurer Rob McCord was re-elected to the third. Only the attorney general’s office changed parties.

The elections also brought good news for legislative Democrats, who picked up three Senate seats after losing the governorship and what was left of their legislative clout two years ago, but Republicans retained control of both houses.

“For the millions of dollars spent on campaigns, this was a status quo election,” said Terry Madonna, a pollster and political scientist at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster.

In October, former U.S. Sen. Arlen Specter, whose 30 years in office made him Pennsylvania’s longest-serving senator, died at 82 after his third bout with cancer. Vice President Joe Biden was among the hundreds of mourners who attended his funeral.

Pennsylvania’s government and politics bore the stain of scandal for a third straight year as state and federal judges sentenced more than a dozen former legislators and aides convicted of public corruption.

Former House speakers John Perzel of Philadelphia, a Republican, and Bill DeWeese, a Greene County Democrat, were among several legislative leaders who were sent to prison.

As the year ended, Pennsylvania Supreme Court Justice Joan Orie Melvin remained suspended without pay as she awaits trial on charges of illegally using her publicly paid staff to work on political campaigns. Her sister, former state Sen. Jane Orie, R-Allegheny, is serving a prison sentence for her conviction on similar charges earlier this year.

At the Capitol, Gov. Tom Corbett teamed up with GOP majorities in the Legislature to pass measures that included a natural-gas drilling law that encourages new wells and limits taxation, hundreds of millions in business tax breaks and a refinancing of the state unemployment compensation system’s $4 billion debt to the federal government. And he boasted that he kept his no-new-taxes pledge for his second year in office.

Yet Corbett’s job-approval rating remained low — a November poll by Quinnipiac University put it at 40 percent of the state’s voters — amid lingering disenchantment over past spending cuts for education and social services. Some GOP leaders voiced frustration over Corbett’s low-key persona and his reticence to tout his successes.

Sensing vulnerability in Corbett, numerous Democrats and at least one Republican have publicly said they are considering or planning campaigns to challenge his expected re-election bid in 2014. Democrat John Hanger, a former state environmental protection secretary, declared his candidacy in November.

Kane’s election will ensure a new round of official scrutiny of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse case that could put her on a collision course with Corbett.

She ran on a pledge to investigate why it took the attorney general’s office almost three years to charge the former Penn State assistant football coach, who is serving a 30- to 60-year prison term for sexually abusing 10 boys over 15 years.

Corbett was attorney general when the state took over the case in early 2009 until he became governor in January 2011.

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