(294) Sunday, November 27, 2016 – Anyone who says PA Democratic Governor Tom Wolf and the solid Republican leadership of the state legislature do not get along must be mistaken.
Depends on the circumstances.
Just about everyone is determined to reduce the fallout from “porngate.” If possible, voters/taxpayers cannot learn of any other executive, legislative or judicial officials trading pornographic, racist and sexist email jokes on government computers and – by extension – on taxpayers’ time.
Here are the cast of characters (literally) in this heretofore unknown latest example of both parties working together.
KATHLEEN KANE: Former attorney general (first woman and first Democrat) inflicted serious damage with revelations of thousands of pornographic emails among state government, legislative and judicial officials preceding her taking over that office in 2013. She learned this during her investigation to see if the massive investigation of convicted serial child molester Jerry Sandusky was deliberately slow-walked to help Republicans win the 2010 governor’s election.
This initial probe revealed at least 60 public employees, including two Supreme Court Justices and several Corbett cabinet officials or high-ranking aides. The Justices and Corbett people still on the payroll had to relinquish their taxpayer jobs.
FRANK NOONAN: The former commander of Pennsylvania State Police under Corbett was shown to have received obscene emails while a top aide in Corbett’s A.G. office. Because it was not proven that he either generated or forwarded any of these emails, he was not disciplined. There is also no indication that Noonan took any steps to stop the practice, but – hey – no one’s perfect.
TOM CORBETT: Elected governor in 2010, he was defeated for re-election in 2014. His defeat had more to do with competency than the “porngate” scandal. More employees of the attorney general’s office when Corbett held this post from 2004 to 2010 seemed to be enjoyers of “porngate.” Subsequent probes showed Corbett – at the most – unwittingly permitted a culture for this type of frivolity.
DOUG GANSLER: Former attorney general of Maryland, Gansler was appointed by Kane to make further effort to learn the extensiveness of “porngate.” Kane was ousted from office prior to Gansler completing his report. According to Harrisburg Patriot News, Gansler’s probe identified “13 senders who were either judges or senior government officials and another 38 high volume senders.” In addition, the report reveals more than 25 district attorneys and assistant district attorneys who sent inappropriate emails. At least one member of the state legislator also participated.
BRUCE CASTOR: Once an elected official in Montgomery County and a rising star in Republican politics, Castor was the last person Kane appointed chief deputy attorney general before leaving office. He then became acting Attorney General this summer shortly before Gansler’s report was completed. This meant Castor would have control of Gansler’s research. By the time of Castor’s appointment, Kane had been sufficiently provoked by her “fellow” Democrats (see Tom Wolf, next character) to see that a Republican would at least succeed her for the six months remaining in her elected term. Additionally, Castor had had a falling out with establishment Republicans and was likely perceived by them as a “loose cannon.”
TOM WOLF: Buying his gubernatorial election in 2014 and, before that, only having served a short term in former Dem Gov. Ed Rendell’s cabinet, the very wealthy Wolf was not around to share any obscene emails on the state computer circuits. Wolf had the option of leaving Castor in place or attempting to appoint a successor for the remaining six months of Kane’s term. His appointment, however, would need confirmation by the heavily Republican state senate.
Wolf was – at least – on speaking terms with these Republicans and he had to show some proof that Democrats did not waste their support for him in 2014. He has just made a grand bargain over the current state budget. For the second time, the Republicans presented him with a financial blueprint without a major tax hike and – again – not in balance.
This year, however, Wolf was hosting the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. He did not want to be the butt of jokes for again dealing with a government budget that was unreal. He agreed to sign their unbalanced efforts and, hopefully, clean up any major problems in the next couple of months. Meantime, legislators could go home and get re-elected based – in part – on having solved the state’s difficult financial circumstances.
BRUCE BEEMER: Why would Republican legislators confirm a Democrat to be temporary attorney general? Could it be that Beemer would redact all names in Gansler’s report in exchange for a line on his resume where he had served as the state’s chief law enforcement official?
Normally summertime is not good to get confirmation actions from the PA legislature. Normally they are home participating in parades, picnics and fairs and – in even numbered years – getting re-elected, which always comes first. This year, the Pennsylvania Senate was scheduled to be out of session for eight weeks.
Actions needed to be taken on opioids legislation because about ten people die in Pennsylvania every day from overdose. Pensions needed restructuring to prevent further property tax increases in local school districts. These issues had to wait until Senators returned to work earlier this fall.
Beemer’s appointment was different. On a day late in August Senators piled into Harrisburg. Even though Republicans commanded a 31-19 edge in that chamber, Beemer, a Democrat, was confirmed in a unanimous vote.
Earlier last week Beemer released the long-awaited “porngate” report. The name of every person identified as participating in the email scandal was either redacted or removed. Beemer recited every reason but the weather as to why these people needed to be spared humiliation.
Bottom Line: Only in Pennsylvania state government, watched over by a docile establishment media, can such a scandal using public resources be lidded.
This may be one of those times – again, only in Harrisburg – where the end justifies the means.
“Porngate” is relevant because of who it is about. Generally, in central PA justice favors the prosecution. The “good old boys” network is about prosecutors rising to become judges and the relationships among them.
Even Beemer admits, per the Philadelphia Inquirer, that “some of this raises questions about judges and prosecutors and fair trials for citizens.”
A defendant’s lawyer has every right to raise the issue of an impartiality of the bench.
Two weeks ago, a federal judge cited the emails in an opinion granting an appeal hearing to a convicted murderer sentenced to death. The defense attorney had not even raised the issue in his appeal.