HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Nearly four years to the day after then-candidate Kathleen Kane stood on the debate stage at Widener Law School’s Capitol campus, the two men hoping to become the next attorney general did the same.
The two Montgomery County candidates squared off as Kane was being sentenced in Montgomery County court for lying to grand jury about leaking grand jury secrets. Kane got 10-23 months in jail.
Kane’s tenure and decisions were very much a part of Monday’s hour long debate, which began at 11 a.m.
Kane’s well-publicized decision not to defend Pennsylvania’s Defense of Marriage Act because she believed it be unconstitutional was scrutinized. Republican candidate John Rafferty said attorney generals can’t pick and choose.
“You defend the laws of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Rafferty said with authority. “You defend those statutes duly enacted by the legislature and signed by the governor. That is your job. That is your function.”
Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro doesn’t believe it’s so black-and-white. He hedged.
“Any lawyer, whether it’s the attorney general or anyone else, cannot do something that is unconstitutional,” Shapiro said. “Or not defend a law that may be unconstitutional.”
Shapiro is a Montgomery County commissioner. Rafferty is a state senator.
Both are politicians and both accused the other of bowing to special interests.
“When the lobbyists come walking down the hallways in the Capitol and sprinkle their dollars around, or sprinkle their influence around, (Rafferty) tends to follow them,” Shapiro said.
“(Shapiro) sits in a position where he does take political contributions and he does award contracts. A legislator does not do that.”
Rafferty, years ago, spent time as a deputy attorney general. He insists Shapiro is unqualified.
“If I had been before one grand jury, or in the courtroom once, that’s 100 percent more than my opponent’s ever been,” Rafferty said.
But Shapiro dismisses the argument and says his executive experience is superior to Rafferty’s because he runs a county with four times the staff and four times the budget of the Office of Attorney General.
“I’ll take a back seat to no one when it comes to qualifications,” Shapiro said forcefully at the conclusion of the debate.
Each side tried to tie the other to what they believe to be unsavory characters.
Shapiro blasted Rafferty for not denouncing Donald Trump at the top of the GOP ticket.
“I don’t blame John for Trump being at the top of the ticket,” Shapiro said. “But I do blame him for not standing up and condemning the racist, homophobic, xenophobic, hateful, and sexist comments that Donald Trump has made time and time again.”
Rafferty noted that Shapiro has been endorsed by the Clintons, who also endorsed Kane.
Rafferty also linked Shapiro directly to the disgraced attorney general and may have scored the zinger of the debate.
“I am running against Kathleen Kane in a suit,” Rafferty said of Shapiro. “Someone with less experience than Kathleen Kane.”