Attorney generals have long battled governors
The early months of state Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane's tenure have been marked by deep tensions with Gov. Tom Corbett over her decisions to reject a proposed lottery management privatization contract on grounds it's illegal, and not to take up the defense of a legal challenge to Pennsylvania's Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars same-sex marriages.
As a result of the former, the lottery contract with the British firm Camelot Global Services remains in limbo with month-to-month extensions while the Corbett administration searches for a way to overcome Kane's key objection that legislative approval is needed before keno games can be added to the lottery's offerings.
As for the latter, the governor's general counsel is preparing to defend the state DOMA against a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of gay couples.
That lawsuit came quickly after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled a federal DOMA act unconstitutional. Kane said the state law is unconstitutional and discriminatory.
On the DOMA issue, a number of Republican lawmakers have denounced Kane for not doing her job as the state's chief law enforcement officer to defend a state law in court while Democratic lawmakers rushed to her defense.
Underlying everything is Kane's review of how Corbett handled the controversial Jerry Sanduksy child sex abuse criminal investigation when he was attorney general.
A foreshadowing of the issues that drive Kane and Corbett apart was seen three decades ago during the first two contested elections after the state attorney general's office was made elective by statewide voters in 1978.
The issues raised then were how independent the attorney general should be of the governor and whether the AG should have a policy-making role or not.
In the 1980 election, Republican winner LeRoy Zimmerman, the then-Dauphin County district attorney, and the late Democratic Sen. Michael O'Pake of Reading clashed over the AG's proper role.
Four years later in 1984, Zimmerman won re-election against Allen Ertel, the 1982 Democratic gubernatorial candidate, in a race that placed even more emphasis on opposing views of the AG's role.
Both times, the governor with a big stake in the outcome was Republican Dick Thornburgh, a former prosecutor like Corbett.
Zimmerman and O'Pake campaigned most of the time in 1980 not knowing what the actual duties and powers of the office would be. The enabling legislation was passed by lawmakers just several weeks before the election. A compromise provision created the new and powerful office of general counsel to the governor.
On the stump, Zimmerman said the AG's power to review state contracts could stop sweetheart deals that can lead to corruption.
O'Pake questioned how Zimmerman could be independent, since he was getting help from Thornburgh with fundraising.
In 1984, Zimmerman and Ertel sparred over whether the AG was a partner with or check on the governor. Contract reviews were prominent in this exchange.
"I don't think the people of Pennsylvania want the attorney general and governor to be engaged in a daily news-making vendetta of accusations," said Zimmerman.
Responded Ertel, "I think the attorney general is a means of checking the administration's practices as much as anything."
(Robert Swift is Harrisburg bureau chief for Times-Shamrock Communications. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.)