The Republican and Democratic candidates vying to be the next attorney general went toe-to-toe in the race’s first and only televised debate on Monday, taking every opportunity to draw contrasts between themselves.
Staged in a classroom at Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus, Republican David Freed and Democrat Kathleen Kane took turns taking shots at each other in telling voters why they would be the best candidate to be the state’s top law enforcement officer.
Freed, who has worked in the Cumberland County District Attorney for 15 years and as district attorney since 2005, portrayed himself as the more-experienced prosecutor who holds an advantage over his opponent, who has never served as an elected district attorney.
Kane, meanwhile, referred to Freed as Gov. Tom Corbett’s hand-picked candidate who lacked the independence that she said she would bring to the office. She also touted her experience as an assistant district attorney in Lackawanna County.
Freed later fired back at Kane’s comment.
“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 gained as DA.”
Incumbent Attorney General Linda Kelly, appointed by Corbett last year to complete his term as attorney general that runs through early next year, agreed in advance not to seek a full four-year term.
Absent from the debate was Libertarian candidate Marakay Rogers, who said she had a scheduling conflict.
The candidates distinguished themselves from each other in how they would approach looking back over the attorney general’s office’s handling of the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case begun under Corbett and concluded by Kelly.
Sandusky was convicted on 45 charges and sentenced to 30 to 60 years in prison. But some have questioned whether Corbett slowed the pace of the investigation so as not to interfere with his gubernatorial run, a charge that he denies.
Freed, 42, said he would look “to see what could have been done better or what could have been done differently.” He said he would gather the facts, read the transcripts, talk to the investigators and read the reports.
Kane, 46, said she would investigate why a grand jury was used to prosecute a pedophile case, an approach she said is too time-consuming. She also would explore why so few agents were assigned to the case and why a narcotics officer was put on the pedophile case.
“I will find out who, what, when, and why and if anyone is to be held accountable, then so be it,” she said. “I truly will conduct an independent investigation, not a review.”
Both agreed not to run for another office while serving as attorney general, in contrast to the state’s last three elected attorney generals who made a run for governor.
But when it came to whether they would personally handle prosecutions as attorney general, Freed said he would consider going into the courtroom only in rare instances.
He said it was unrealistic for the attorney general to take time away from running the office of nearly 800 people to try a criminal case in court. He added it “shows the lack of experience at the top level in a prosecution office that my opponent has.”
Kane countered that she thinks the people of Pennsylvania are worth the time. Using the Sandusky case as an example, she said, “If in the office of attorney general, I am the most qualified child sexual abuse prosecutor, than you better believe I’ll be the one in the courtroom.”
But Freed got the last word in responding to that question. He said he has a lot of success in prosecuting cases in the courtroom, “but I can guarantee you this: if I get elected attorney general, I’m going to have people working for me that are way better than I am.”
They also differed on laws requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms.
Freed said there are plenty of gun laws that need to be enforced and adding lost-or-stolen firearm reporting was not needed. But Kane, who described herself as a Second Amendment supporter, said she sees that as a tool that law enforcement need.