2 from Philly burbs seek AG’s office

The Associated Press

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania’s next top prosecutor, elected to lead an office roiled by the conviction two months ago of then-Attorney General Kathleen Kane, will be a lawyer from the Philadelphia suburbs who holds elective office and has legislative experience.

Republican state Sen. John Rafferty and Democratic county Commissioner Josh Shapiro, who both live in Montgomery County, are facing off to take over the 820-employee agency and become the state’s highest-ranking law enforcement official.

The winner will become Pennsylvania’s fourth attorney general in a span of about five months, following two years of turmoil and crisis in the agency while Kane was charged, tried and convicted of leaking grand jury documents to a newspaper to embarrass a rival and then lying about it under oath.

The election is Nov. 8.

The contenders: Kane resigned in August, and the office is now being run by her former top deputy, Bruce Beemer. He plans to serve until either Shapiro or Rafferty takes the oath of office in January.

Rafferty, 63, is emphasizing his experience as a lawyer, including three years prosecuting Medicaid fraud in the attorney general’s office, and as a state senator, where he has been involved in criminal justice legislation and was a prime driver of a 2013 law that raised billions of dollars a year in new gasoline taxes and motorist fees to improve highways.

He has attacked Shapiro for political ambitions and a lack of courtroom legal experience, comparing him to Kane, who had a thin resume as a Lackawanna County prosecutor before she mounted her 2012 campaign.

“We’ve already seen somebody with little experience make a disaster of the office,” Rafferty said. “Now the party has nominated someone with even less experience to take over.”

Shapiro, 43, a former four-term state House member, points to his service as chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency and notes that the attorneys general in many states do not have prior prosecutorial experience.

“I think it should tell you a lot about a candidate and his candidacy, when they’re asked questions about themselves and what they would do, they spend time trashing their opponent,” Shapiro said.

Platforms: Both men overcame opposition in the spring primary. Rafferty got 64 percent of the GOP vote in beating Joe Peters, a former prosecutor who had worked for Kane. Shapiro collected 47 percent of the vote in a three-man race, defeating district attorneys Stephen Zappala of Allegheny County and John Morganelli of Northampton County.

Shapiro’s pitch to voters is to make the justice system fairer, to “clean up” the office and to actively work on such issues as clean drinking water in gas drilling areas, consumer protections and fighting gun crime. He supports universal background checks for gun purchasers.

He also promotes himself as more independent, accusing Rafferty of being too easily led by Republican leaders in the Senate and calling him “a Harrisburg politician for two decades.”

Rafferty notes he’s been involved in passing legislation to prevent straw purchases of handguns. He believes the state has sufficient gun regulations that should be more aggressively enforced. He also cites his work on a bill imposing stronger penalties in more serious arson cases and his sponsorship of a new law requiring ignition interlock devices for first-offense drunken drivers. He vows not to seek another office if elected.

Kane, a Democrat, awaits sentencing Oct. 24 in Montgomery County, and has asked for house arrest.