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New Democratic row officers will keep close eye on Corbett

| Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Republican Gov. Tom Corbett will spend at least the next two years of his term with two Democratic watchdogs keeping tabs on his administration.

Their reviews will cover the Jerry Sandusky investigation that Corbett started as the former attorney general and state programs the governor's office oversees.

“It should provide checks and balances for smoother and more ethical government operations,” said Jerry Shuster, a professor of political communications at the University of Pittsburgh.

Corbett “has to know he's under a microscope,” said Vincent Carocci, who served as press secretary to the late Democratic Gov. Robert P. Casey and compared Corbett to former Gov. Dick Thornburgh. Thornburgh, he said, had two basic rules: “Make the trains run on time and keep your hands clean.”

Democrat Kathleen Kane, a former Lackawanna County prosecutor, on Tuesday became the first woman elected attorney general. She led a Democratic sweep of the row offices with Rep. Eugene DePasquale, a York Democrat formerly from Pittsburgh, winning the auditor general's race.

Kane and DePasquale pledged to be independent watchdogs. Kane campaigned on investigating why it took Corbett and his appointed successor, Linda Kelly, 33 months to arrest Sandusky, a former Penn State assistant football coach convicted of 45 counts of child molestation in June. DePasquale pledged to start an audit of largely state-run water-protection programs.

Corbett said he welcomes an investigation and that politics played no role in the Sandusky case. The governor “expects them to do their jobs, follow the constitution and not let partisan politics dictate their actions,” said Corbett spokesman Kevin Harley.

Kane defeated Corbett-backed candidate David Freed, the Cumberland County District Attorney, by a 14-point margin. Shuster called Freed's defeat “a major blow to (Corbett's) political power and stature.”

“I don't see how,” Harley said. “You had an incumbent president on the ballot who did fairly well. Tom Corbett wasn't on the ballot.”

DePasquale defeated Rep. John Maher of Upper St. Clair by a 50-46 percent margin. Maher retained his House seat. Treasurer Rob McCord of Bryn Mawr was re-elected, defeating Washington County Commissioner Diana Irey Vaughan, a Republican, 52-44 percent.

Corbett still has a Republican-majority Legislature, but Democrats gained three seats in the Senate, narrowing the GOP edge to 27-23. That will make it more difficult to get conservative legislation through the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Jay Costa, of Forest Hills, said the minority party's power and influence with Senate Republicans and the Corbett administration grew with the gain.

Outgoing Auditor General Jack Wagner, a Beechview Democrat, seemed to equally target agencies in the former administration of Democratic Gov. Ed Rendell and the first two years of Corbett's term, Shuster said. Republicans often lauded his audits. The big change, Shuster said, is with Kane coming in as a popular watchdog. Kane outpolled President Barack Obama and everyone else with more than 3 million votes.

The election “changes the game somewhat” for Corbett, said Carocci, author of a memoir on state government. “Any time the office of governor is doing things appropriately, they have nothing to worry about.”

“It can be a nuisance,” Carocci said, noting how the late Casey, as auditor general, “made life difficult for the Shapp administration.” Casey was a Democrat as was the late Gov. Milton Shapp.

“The Sandusky case is very subjective among attorneys about the time it took to investigate it,” Carocci said. “You can make an excellent case they did it slow and they did it the right way.”

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 717-787-1405 or bbumsted@tribweb.com.

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