HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — Pennsylvania’s top prosecutor has secured her place in history as the first Democrat and the first woman to be elected to the post and as the first of the state’s attorney generals to perform the job without an active law license.
But Kathleen Kane isn’t running for a second term, and next month voters will pick the two major party candidates who will fight it out in the fall to take over in January. Here is a guide to the candidates and issues in play in the primary races:
Three Democrats are seeking the nomination: Northampton County District Attorney John Morganelli, Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro and Allegheny County District Attorney Stephen Zappala. The Republican side pits Montgomery County state Sen. John Rafferty against Joe Peters, a former Scranton cop and state prosecutor who was once Kane’s official spokesman.
Kane drew attention soon after taking office by preventing Republican Gov. Tom Corbett from hiring a private firm to manage state lottery operations and announcing she would not defend a law that prevented gay marriage. She also became the target of a criminal investigation and was charged last year with illegally leaking secret grand jury material to a reporter, allegations she vigorously denies. The state’s highest court has suspended her law license, and the Legislature has explored removing her. Her criminal trial is scheduled for August.
ABOUT THE OFFICE
The attorney general’s office has about 820 employees, of which about a quarter are lawyers. They prosecute major crimes, including drug rings, organized crime, child predators and public corruption; handle conflict-of-interest referrals from county district attorneys; and work to protect consumers from fraud. The office also represents state agencies in civil matters. The attorney general’s salary is $159,000.
During a debate last week in Philadelphia, the candidates were asked what they would do to improve agency morale in the post-Kane era. Rafferty said he would tour all field offices and tell employees that if they do their job, follow directives and act ethically, “I will have their back.” Shapiro said running the government in a heavily populated county gives him relevant executive experience and he will recruit people who “want to move forward in the same optimistic, positive direction.” Zappala said he’s familiar with much of the agency’s workforce and will “lead by example.” Morganelli promised to make widespread leadership personnel changes and will “bring in top-notch professionals.” Peters said prosecutors, agents and support staff will relate to him because he’s held similar jobs.
Zappala said the head of a busy prosecutor’s office doesn’t have the time to get bogged down in the details required to try individual cases, calling it “truly a team effort.” Morganelli, a trial lawyer for his entire career, said it’s good experience to have, but not a must. Peters said a mix of skills, including prosecutorial experience, are called for. Rafferty said the attorney general needs “a broad knowledge of the law” and sets policy, acting like a managing partner of a large law firm. Shapiro said executive leadership, sound judgment and an understanding of the job are what’s needed.
All five said they would impose strict policies against hiring relatives.
MORGANELLI : He’s the state’s longest-tenured district attorney, having been first elected 25 years ago. Morganelli, 60, graduated from Moravian College with a political science degree and then Villanova Law School. He was the Democratic nominee for attorney general in 2008 before losing in the general election, and was president of the state district attorneys association. He’s married and has three children.
SHAPIRO : He’s chairman of the Montgomery County board, chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency, a former four-term state representative and a onetime congressional aide. Shapiro, 42, has a bachelor’s degree from Rochester University and a law degree from Georgetown. He served on Gov. Tom Wolf’s transition team. He’s married and has four children.
ZAPPALA : He was first appointed as chief prosecutor in the state’s second-largest city in 1998 and has run uncontested in four of five races. Zappala, 58, has a political science degree from the University of Pittsburgh and a law degree from Duquesne. His father is a former chief justice of the state Supreme Court. He’s married and has four children.
PETERS : He spent more than 15 years with the attorney general’s office, part of it as a drug prosecutor. He also worked as a police officer, served on a federal organized crime task force in Philadelphia and was associate director of the White House’s Office of National Drug Control Policy. He was the Republican nominee for auditor general in 2004 before losing in general election. Peters, 59, attended King’s College in Scranton and Dickinson School of Law. He is divorced and has a son.
RAFFERTY : He’s a four-term state senator, current chairman of the Senate’s Transportation Committee, a member of the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing and a former state deputy attorney general prosecuting Medicaid fraud. Rafferty, 63, has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Pittsburgh at Johnstown, a master’s degree from Beaver College and a law degree from Temple University. He is single.
WHEN’S THE ELECTION?
The primary is April 26.