Dermody: Enthusiasm wanes among Democrats for impeaching Kane
HARRISBURG — Attorney General Kathleen Kane’s decision not to seek re-election dampens enthusiasm among many House Democrats to proceed with impeachment, the chamber’s minority leader said Tuesday.
Rep. Frank Dermody of Oakmont said Kane’s decision “takes the wind out of the sails” of proceeding with her impeachment, which would be difficult to finish before her term expires this year.
It would be expensive, he said, estimating at least $2 million, and the state faces a $2 billion deficit.
Kane, 49, of Scranton faces an August trial on a dozen criminal charges in Montgomery County, including felony perjury. The Supreme Court has suspended her law license.
“It would take a great deal of time and money,” said Joe DiSarro, chairman of the political science department at Washington & Jefferson College. “There’s enough polarization in Harrisburg.
“She is really insignificant at this point. I see no need to impeach her; it would be overkill. She doesn’t have a law license, she isn’t going to run for re-election, and she’s going to trial this summer.”
Dermody, a prosecutor in the 1994 impeachment of a Supreme Court justice, testified before the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Courts in its first hearing on whether to file Articles of Impeachment against Kane, the state’s chief law enforcement officer, for misbehavior in office.
Dermody later told reporters about the changing mood among Democrats following Kane’s decision not to run.
Rep. Todd Stephens, R-Montgomery County, the subcommittee chairman, said the panel will continue with the investigation that the full House authorized Feb. 9 in a 170-12 vote.
“I think at this point (that) turning our backs on the investigation would amount to putting our heads in the sand,” Stephens said. “Until we have the facts, we don’t know whether it makes sense to proceed.”
But Kane’s announcement last week that she won’t run for a second term “definitely changes the conversation” from when the House approved the resolution, said Rep. Tim Briggs, D-Montgomery County.
Rep. Rick Saccone, R-Elizabeth Township, said the House should act based on principle, not Kane’s political decision. He said he hasn’t heard a convincing argument for why the House should decline to proceed, if Kane’s actions in office rise to the level of impeachable offenses.
If the investigation results in a successful impeachment vote by the full House, the Senate would sit as a jury to decide whether to sustain it.
“It would be unfortunate to put the Senate through this, in the midst of this incredible budget fight” between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and legislative Republicans on the 2016-17 budget and the unfinished 2015-16 budget, DiSarro said.
A Senate vote two weeks ago failed to remove Kane from office under a section of the Pennsylvania Constitution separate from impeachment. That removal provision requires a two-thirds Senate vote, as does impeachment.
Kane is the first woman and Democrat elected attorney general. She maintains her innocence and contends she is able to direct office operations without an active law license.
Dermody and former Rep. Jeffrey Piccola, R-Dauphin County — the committee’s first witnesses Tuesday — took part in the impeachment of Justice Rolf Larsen, who was convicted in Allegheny County Common Pleas Court for having a doctor provide anti-anxiety prescriptions to his employees.
The Senate impeachment article focused on the fact that “Larsen was involved with litigants before the court — they got favors,” Dermody said. Larsen died in 2014.
His impeachment cost taxpayers about $1.5 million in outside legal fees, Dermody said.
Piccola recommended using outside counsel if Kane is impeached. He and Dermody said the proceeding needs to be bipartisan.
Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 or [email protected].