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Happy talk 'oversight'

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Saturday, Feb. 23, 2013, 9:00 p.m.


After running a TV-oriented campaign and refusing to take questions after a major decision she announced on the state lottery two weeks ago, no one knew quite what to expect when new Attorney General Kathleen Kane made a major public appearance to testify before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Kane hit it out of the park with personal vignettes and a passionate plea for a $12.7 million increase in her appropriation.

The Democrat is giving the Republican Gov. Tom Corbett fits. She was appearing before a Republican-controlled budget committee. So some tough questions might have been on order.

But for a variety of reasons, it turned into a love fest with GOP and Democrat senators fawning over her.

For starters, she left no doubt about her ability to argue a case. I knew that from watching her debate Republican David Freed last year, but the no-comment-deal after nixing Corbett's lottery management privatization contract left some in doubt.

Other factors:

• She's a woman, somewhat of a rarity in state politics, in front of an almost all-male committee.

• Many GOP senators probably agreed with her decision on the lottery, arguing that monitor-based games like Keno used to boost lottery revenues required legislative approval. Sen. Tommy Tomlinson, R-Bucks County, flat out said he agreed with Kane's decision. The reason she took no questions at the lottery event: She wanted the legal argument to stand and not give Corbett the chance to pounce on any potential ambiguity.

• She threw a hard-breaking curve ball as the hearing began, saying she needed more money for her office — not only because a union contract jacked up salary and benefits — but because Mexican drug cartels are taking over our neighborhoods. She followed up with another hardball: she needs the money to go after 2,800 Internet predators.

Violent drug dealers and Internet pervs make state lawmakers real nervous. They would never want to be seen as opposing appropriation to get rid of them.

So, not a question was asked about the evidence of Mexican drug cartels. And they were soon calling for increased money in the AG's office, which, by the way, is investigating Corbett's handling of the Jerry Sandusky case when he was the AG.

“They are taking over our neighborhoods,” Kane said of Mexican cartels. “They are more violent than the Colombian cartels.”

She said concern over the cartels and Internet sex offenders keeps her up at night.

Kane offered no proof other than a map of “street-gang involvement” throughout the United States. It showed a concentration of incidents in the I-95 corridor between Washington, Philly and New York — and a smattering in Western Pennsylvania.

Afterward, her staff upon request offered news releases and news stories showing Mexican drug connections in busts by the AG's office since 2010.

A day later before the House Appropriations Committee, Kane said there are cases involving cartels under seal that she could not discuss, noting they are “frightening.”

But no senator thought to ask Kane to show them evidence of Mexican drug cartels taking over our state.

Instead, she got the happy talk that frequently masquerades as oversight by legislative committees.

Brad Bumsted is the state Capitol reporter for Trib Total Media (717-787-1405.}

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