There are two ways to remove a Band-Aid; in one sharp motion getting the pain over quickly, or pulling it off slowly allowing the pain to linger. Democrats in Pennsylvania appear to subscribe to both approaches when it comes to dealing with the misdeeds of their statewide elected officials.
Former State Treasurer Rob McCord abruptly resigned from office in late January revealing he was going to plead guilty to charges that he attempted to extort campaign funds from companies interested in doing business with the state. The crimes occurred while McCord was battling now-Governor Tom Wolf for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination last spring.
The McCord denouement came swiftly. In a town that leaks like a sieve, there was surprisingly little advance rumor of the charges; news of which McCord broke himself. The former treasurer spared the commonwealth the usual drama which surrounds such things by accepting responsibility for his actions and promptly leaving office. He has now disappeared from the headlines.
And then there is the case of Kathleen Kane. The term "embattled" is appended to virtually every news article written about the attorney general who is currently under investigation by the Montgomery County District Attorney for allegedly leaking secret grand jury information. Charges have been recommended by that grand jury and the Pennsylvania Supreme Court recently ruled the process legal and correct.
Suffice it to say General Kane is in hot water. As if that were not enough, news broke that she scuttled an investigation into a northeastern Pennsylvania casino probe. And, the Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams has successfully prosecuted another investigation Kane dropped involving several Philadelphia legislators who allegedly took bribes. This, along with a revolving door among her top staffers has produced an agency in crisis and an attorney general in political peril.
Unlike McCord, Kane is fighting back. She has hired big guns associated with her political patrons, Bill and Hillary Clinton, refuses to resign and plans to fight any criminal charges which may be filed against her.
This could not be worse news for Pennsylvania Democrats. The party can ill afford going into a major election year with the state’s highest elected law enforcement official under a cloud, or possibly under indictment. Add in the McCord misfire, along with the Philadelphia legislator scandal, and what you have is the image of a political party steeped in corruption.
Already the steady stream of negative headlines is having an effect. In just the last couple of weeks Democrats lost a special election for a legislative seat in Philadelphia, something that hasn’t happened in decades. A Quinnipiac University poll shows Republican U.S. Senator Pat Toomey leading likely Democratic challenger Joe Sestak by double digits. The poll even found U.S. Senator Rand Paul leading presumptive Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by one point. And, the poll was taken before Senator Paul’s official announcement of candidacy which likely will give him a further bounce.
Clearly the scandals surrounding Pennsylvania Democrats could have national implications. Pat Toomey has been listed as one of the most vulnerable Republican senators up for re-election next year, if only because of the large Democratic voter registration lead in Pennsylvania. But, to date, he has overcome that edge. And, there is absolutely no plausible mathematical formula for Democrats to win the White House in 2016 without carrying Pennsylvania.
It remains to be seen whether or not Republicans will be able to take advantage of the culture of corruption surrounding state Democrats. But one thing is for sure, the slow removal of the Kane Band-Aide ensures the issue will remain alive for the foreseeable future.
(Lowman S. Henry is Chairman & CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal. His e-mail address is [email protected])
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