Capitol reporter Mary Wilson covers Pennsylvania politics and issues at the Pennsylvania state capitol.
(Harrisburg) -- It was “independence” versus “experience” as candidates for state Attorney General tried to define the race on their own terms in their first and only debate on Monday evening, hosted by Widener Law School in Harrisburg and broadcast live on PCN.
For the Democratic candidate, questions inevitably led to claims of her own lack of ties to the Corbett Administration. Former Lackawanna County prosecutor Kathleen Kane said, if elected, she would beef up the AG office’s public corruption unit and investigate the office’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
“The difference between my opponent and I is I was not handpicked by Tom Corbett,” said Kane. “I do not owe my candidacy to anyone.”
Republican candidate Dave Freed, who has Corbett’s endorsement, beat back Kane’s attempts to sully his independence with references to his seven years as the District Attorney in Cumberland County.
“I must have missed the phone call when Gov. Corbett called and handpicked me to run for Attorney General,” he said. “That was a decision I made on my own based on my record and the breadth of experience I’ve gained as a DA.”
Freed said he has the managerial experience to run an office that suffers from perennial lack of resources, and his own priorities, if elected, would be to start a special victims unit and prioritize cyber crime investigations and fighting synthetic drugs.
The candidates also remarked on the role of the Attorney General. Kane said she would not be above trying cases herself if she were the most qualified prosecutor in the office.
Freed said that shows his opponent’s lack of experience.
“I don’t think it’s realistic for an attorney general to put everything else aside and take that time that you need to take to prepare a case to bring that case to a jury. So I would not guarantee that. I wouldn’t say that I wouldn’t go to court but I think it’s a lot to say that I would try a criminal case as attorney general of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” he said.
Kane was quick to respond. “I think the people of Pennsylvania are worth the time,” she said. “I think the Jerry Sandusky show – case – was a perfect example.”
The Sandusky case was a repeated subject of the debate, as it has been repeated throughout the candidates’ primary and general campaigns. Kane said she has questions about the handling of the Jerry Sandusky prosecution and why charges were not brought when Gov. Corbett was the state’s Attorney General. Freed has said he would review the case, though he allowed that perhaps the “proof is in the pudding” that the case was carried out well because Sandusky was convicted on 45 of 48 counts. Kane said a review is not going far enough.
“I will conduct an independent investigation, not a review,” she said, also questioning Freed’s consistency on the subject. He countered that he has always stated he would review how the case was handled, but couldn’t talk as much about the case while it was ongoing because he is a sitting prosecutor who might have to handle the case on appeal.
“I think we have a different set of rules that I have as a sitting prosecutor about what I could say, and I was certainly more expansive after the verdict than I was before,” said Freed.
The GOP candidate was again on the defensive when asked about TV attack ads against Kane, funded by a national Republican group based in Washington, D.C. The ads were roundly denounced as false, and eventually revised. Kane has criticized the Freed campaign for not denouncing the ads as false and calling for them to be removed from the airwaves, saying her campaign counted 17 times when reporters gave the Freed campaign an opportunity to publicly do so.
“I want an attorney general as a citizen of this commonwealth who speaks up for the truth every single time,” said Kane. “I don’t want politics playing a role in it any longer. How a person runs their candidacy shows you how they are going to run the office of Attorney General.” Freed has maintained he was disappointed in ads funded by the Republican State Leadership Committee, but that he could not coordinate with the group to have the ads pulled.
Both candidates pledged not to run for any other office while serving as AG. Freed said that, right now, he doesn’t intend to run for any political office beyond Attorney General, if he is elected.
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