Pa. Senate committee set to discuss Beemer’s nomination as attorney general
HARRISBURG — The Pennsylvania Senate is taking the unusual step of returning early from summer recess for one vote — whether to confirm a former Allegheny County prosecutor to serve for four months as the state’s chief law enforcement officer.
After a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, Bruce Beemer, the state’s inspector general, will be considered by the full Senate on Tuesday as Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s nominee for attorney general. Beemer, 47, of Bradford Woods, is a Democrat, whom former Republican Attorney General Linda Kelly of Edgewood selected as her chief-of-staff in 2011.
A two-thirds or super majority vote is required for approval in the 50-member chamber.
The reason for the return to the Capitol now rather than the planned late September session is what senators see as a need to “provide stability to the Office of Attorney General” following the Aug. 15 conviction of former Attorney General Kathleen Kane, said Senate GOP spokeswoman Jennifer Kocher. Kane oversaw two years of office turmoil as she was the subject of a statewide grand jury investigation and later as a criminal defendant. Kane illegally released grand jury material, then committed perjury and conspired to cover it up, a jury found.
“The hope is to get someone in there who has the confidence of employees who work there and start to fix the problems,” said Sen. John Eichelberger, R-Holidaysburg.
Eichelberger said, in his opinion, acting Attorney General Bruce Castor Jr. didn’t have the confidence of most senators because he was Kane’s choice to take over the office if she left. Kane resigned a day after her conviction.
Kane hired Castor in March as solicitor general – a new position – and placed him above Beemer, who was then first deputy. When Beemer left last month to join the Wolf administration, Kane named Castor as first deputy and left solicitor general open. By law, the first deputy becomes acting attorney general if the attorney general resigns. Castor was sworn in Aug. 17 as acting attorney general.
“My sense of it was Bruce Castor was viewed as Kathleen Kane’s pick,” said Lowman Henry, CEO and president of the Lincoln Institute of Public Opinion Research. “I think the governor and Senate wanted a clean break (from Kane).”
Beemer worked for Kane during most of her tenure. But he testified against Kane at two grand juries and her trial in Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas.
Eichelberger said he believes Castor’s handling of the Bill Cosby case raised doubt among some of his colleagues. Castor, the former Montgomery County district attorney, declined in 2005 to prosecute Cosby based on an accusation that he sexually assaulted a woman. As Castor, a county commissioner, ran for his old office again, and as more alleged victims came forward, Castor’s Democratic opponent Kevin Steele made it a campaign issue. After Steele won the November election as DA, he filed a felony sexual assault charge against Cosby. A judge later ruled Steele wasn’t bound by a verbal agreement Castor made 10 years before not to pursue charges against Cosby.
Said Kocher: “This doesn’t have anything to do with Mr. Castor.”
Beemer has respect among most employees of the office, Kocher said. His longevity at OAG enables him to make needed changes before the next attorney general takes over in mid-January.
Democrats and Republicans will hold separate closed-door caucus meetings Tuesday.
Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican John Rafferty, candidates for attorney general, square off in the November election.
Brad Bumsted is the Tribune-Review’s state Capitol reporter. Reach him at 717-787-1405 and [email protected].