Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Corbett's response to Kane's mutiny

The guv finally spoke out about Kathleen Kane's decision not to defend the state ban on gay marriage, but the response was (a) late and (b) weak.

Corbett's response to Kane's mutiny

Gov. Corbett (right) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey greeted Kathleen Kane before she took her oath of office as state attorney general this month. MATT ROURKE / Associated Press
Gov. Corbett (right) and U.S. Sen. Bob Casey greeted Kathleen Kane before she took her oath of office as state attorney general this month. MATT ROURKE / Associated Press

It is yet another example of how Gov. Corbett still thinks like a prosecutor not a politician.

On Monday, he finally said something about Atty. Gen. Kathleen Kane's decision not to defend the state in a lawsuit seeking to overturn Pennsylvania law banning gay marriage.

Typically, Corbett's response came well after the fact, well after Kane made national news with her action.

And, typically, the response said nothing of substance; it was more of a "stay tuned" message, the kind of message Corbett consistently offered during dragged-out investigations when he was attorney general and ongoing dragged-out efforts to achieve his political and policy agendas.

During a stop in Monroe County Monday, the guv said he and Kane disagree on the role of AG and that soon his office will have something to say about that. You can watch a TV clip of the guv here.

But it's prosecutor-think. Had been acting like a political leader, he would have stepped out last Thursday on the day of Kane's announcement and said something like, look, I know a little bit about the office of attorney general having served in it for more than eight years (remember, he was acting AG after Ernie Preate went to the prison in the `90's, then twice elected to the post).

He could have said the job is to defend state laws, not to decide them. He could have said I think she's wrong, I think she's playing politics and I would not have done that. It could have made him look more like a leader, or at least engaged. Instead, he stood in front of a WNEP-TV camera in Monroe County and said almost nothing.

Kane made her announcement at a rally/press conference at the Constitution Center, clearly designed to pack as much political punch as possible; proving she's thinking like a politician not a prosecutor.

She could have (many say should have) issued a simple statement providing her legal basis, along with a letter to the governor, spelling out why she's transferring defense of the case to his office of general counsel.

There is some legal fuzziness because the pertinent statute, the Commonwealth Attorneys Act, includes -- as is the case in so many laws -- apparently conflicting sections.

One section says the attorney general "shall" defend all state statutes absent a countervailing ruling from an appropriate court (her office cites the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on DOMA; others say that's a federal issue yet to be decided in states). Another section allows an AG to kick a case to the governor's office if he or she believes such a move is in the best interest of the state's defense.

But tangled legalities aside, the political optics (what most voters see and hear) clearly favor Kane as active and aggressive for what she believes is right and constitutional, and just as clearly show Corbett (again) as slow and deliberative.

In other words, it looks like Kane is acting like a governor and Corbett is acting like an attorney general.

Daily News Political Columnist
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About this blog
John Baer has been covering politics and government for the Daily News since 1987. The National Journal in 2002 called Baer one of the country's top 10 political journalists outside Washington, saying Baer has, "the ability to take the skin off a politician without making it hurt too much." E-mail John at

John is the author of the book "On The Front Lines of Pennsylvania Politics: Twenty-Five Years of Keystone Reporting" (The History Press, 2012). Reach John at

John Baer Daily News Political Columnist
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