HARRISBURG – Call it the anti-honeymoon.
The interaction between midterm Gov. Tom Corbett and newly inaugurated Attorney General Kathleen Kane has been tense since before she took office a month ago. Just this week, it sent sparks flying in a dispute over the legality of a Pennsylvania Lottery contract.
Corbett, the seasoned pol and former attorney general, is countering a stubbornly low job-approval rating with an ambitious agenda that would chop down the backlog of highway and bridge work, overhaul the state pension system and hand over to the private sector the sale of alcoholic beverages and the management of the Pennsylvania Lottery.
Kane, the former county prosecutor and political novice who resoundingly won her first election campaign, is walking a tightrope between fulfilling her professional responsibilities as the state’s chief legal officer and living up to expectations that come with being the first woman and the first Democrat to be elected to the post.
Corbett, 63, a Republican who faces potential re-election challenges in both the primary and general elections next year, is eager to convince voters he is an effective leader worthy of a second term. Kane, 17 years his junior, is equally determined to prove that she is an independent prosecutor who will fairly apply state laws.
The tension between them pre-dates Kane’s arrival in Harrisburg.
Kane threw down the gauntlet during last year’s campaign by repeatedly questioning – at the height of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual-abuse scandal – why it took state prosecutors almost three years to arrest the former Penn State assistant football coach. She vowed to launch an investigation to answer that question, if elected.
Corbett, who was the attorney general during most of that period, said it took time to build the case that convicted Sandusky on 45 counts and sent him to prison for at least 30 years. The governor said he did nothing wrong and rebutted critics’ suggestion that he dragged out the investigation to ensure it didn’t become public during his 2010 campaign.
Corbett bristled when reporters broached the subject.
“Anybody can come in and sit down and Monday morning quarterback decisions, OK? But for a true investigation, there has to be some criminal act. I know I didn’t commit any criminal act. None, zero,” he said several days after the election.
Corbett went on to question Kane’s motives in investigating a successful prosecution: “I think the people ought to look at that and say, ‘Hmmm, is that investigation political in nature?”
Last month, with no more fanfare than a news release, Kane named a former federal prosecutor as a special deputy to direct the investigation. She promised “a comprehensive and independent examination of the facts,” but set no timeline for completing it.
This week, Kane provoked a sharp reaction when she announced her office had determined Corbett’s plan to contract out the management of the $3.5 billion state lottery to a British company violated the state constitution and state law.
Corbett has said the contract with London-based Camelot Global Services would produce larger and more stable lottery profits that the state will need to satisfy growing demand for senior citizens’ services that the lottery finances.
Kane said the decision was a product of careful consideration by staff lawyers who had worked for previous attorneys general, including Corbett.
“Promising money to people in need based on a contract that is not legal and then blaming those entrusted to do their job correctly is both disingenuous and a perfect example of putting the cart before the horse,” she said.
In a radio interview with KDKA in Pittsburgh Friday, Corbett declined to call Kane’s decision politically motivated, but didn’t reject the idea that it was a political move either.
“I think the people of Pennsylvania are going to have to decide whether they think it’s political or not,” he said. “I have my personal opinions. ... I think she’s wrong. I’m disappointed by the decision.”
Peter Jackson is the Capitol correspondent for The Associated Press in Harrisburg. He can be reached at pjackson(at)ap.org