HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – It was equal parts civics lesson and constitutional law course, and it was debated for nearly three hours on the floor of the Senate Wednesday.
Republicans tried to keep it to the narrow question of Democrat Kathleen Kane’s ability to be attorney general when her attorney privileges have been suspended by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.
Nearly every Republican argued that she can’t do the job without a law license and should be booted under Article VI, Section 7, an obscure Direct Removal provision in the state Constitution that allows the Senate, after a hearing and with a two-thirds vote, to oust elected officials.
Nearly every Democrat disagreed with the process. Senator Art Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) called it a “kangaroo court.”
Senator Judy Schwank (D-Berks) called it wrong to do an end-run around the voters.
“The very principles of democracy are at stake,” Schwank said passionately on the floor. “Letting the will of Pennsylvanians, rather than majorities in the Senate, to choose whether to keep or throw out elected officials.”
Direct Removal required 33 senators to vote to oust Kane. Only 29 did so. The resolution failed. Kane survived. Senate leaders said they suspected they didn’t have enough votes before debate began but felt it was important to follow through on the precedent-setting process.
“This was the right thing to do,” insisted Senate President Joe Scarnati (R-Jefferson) said. “I would rather go down the right path and come to a dead end than not go down a path at all and have done nothing.”
Kane immediately released a statement after the measure failed. It said: “Today is a good day for all those who share my desire to restore confidence in our judges and prosecutors and integrity to our system of justice. Special Prosecutor Gansler will press on, leaving no hate-filled email unread and no ex parte communication uncovered, in our effort to deliver to all Pennsylvanians, the system of justice we deserve rather than the one we now have. I am happy to continue this effort, finish the mission I pledged to carry out and the job for which I was elected to serve.”
The only Democrat voting for Kane’s ouster was Rob Teplitz (D-Dauphin/Perry). He said he believes the attorney general cannot do her job with a suspended law license. But Teplitz figures to be in a tough re-election this year in a district that now includes conservative Perry County. Did he vote against Kane with an eye toward those voters?
“No,” Teplitz said sternly. “I reject that completely. This was a tough, agonizing vote. This was not a political vote in any way. It was a vote that I made very carefully and did not do lightly and certainly not for political reasons.”
Activist Gene Stilp has been calling for Kane’s removal for months. Before the vote, he predicted the resolution would pass. He was disappointed it didn’t.
“I think the people of Pennsylvania are going to have to suffer through more months of Kathleen Kane at this point,” Stilp said.
Though the vote broke mostly along the partisan divide, Scarnati insisted politics was not in play in the decision to hold the removal vote. In fact, he argued that the Democrat attorney general got preferential treatment.
“If this would’ve been a Republican attorney general in this position, we would’ve acted sooner to remove,” Scarnati said.
Kane is not out of the woods. As the Senate was debating her removal, the House took the first steps in the process that could lead to her impeachment.
Scarnati said he, and lots of Pennsylvanians, believe the drama surrounding Kane has become “a circus.”
“Clearly, her operation of that office will continue and we’ll see in the days and weeks and months ahead what that looks like,” he said.