HARRISBURG -- With a decisive electoral victory in the books, Attorney General-elect Kathleen Kane now moves on to a potentially more sizable challenge: preparing to take the reins of a massive state agency.
The Democrat campaigned in large part on a promise to immediately begin investigating how the attorney general's office under now-Gov. Tom Corbett and his appointed successor, Linda Kelly, handled the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse probe.
She vigorously questioned the investigation's length and resources allocated to it, and maintained that skepticism as revelations came out last week on actions by Penn State University officials to stymie prosecutors' efforts.
Asked late Tuesday night about her transition steps, Ms. Kane focused on her broader approach for getting acquainted with the 700-employee office and its $80 million in annual state funding.
"We'll gather a transition team and start with all the buckets that I want to get accomplished first," she said, pointing to consumer protection, crime and public corruption as three areas of emphasis.
"I think that we kind of had a plan if I won, so now we just start implementing," Ms. Kane added.
Like with former Republican attorney general Tom Corbett in 2004 and Mike Fisher in 1996, Ms. Kane is not already a member of law enforcement. She won't be privileged to certain confidential information until she's sworn in Jan. 15.
Ms. Kelly on Wednesday said her office will work with Ms. Kane leading up to January, when the incoming attorney general also will gain other benefits, like a security detail.
"My staff and I will do everything we can to make the transition seamless, smooth and effective," Ms. Kelly said in a statement congratulating her successor. "We will provide all information not just on the Penn State case, but all other cases."
While leadership transitions are nothing new for the attorney general's office, this one likely will bring about a philosophical shift if Ms. Kane lives up to her campaign promises.
Those included a more activist vision than that from the more traditional past state attorneys general, said Chris Borick, a Muhlenberg College political scientist.
"With a victory like this came expectations," Mr. Borick said. "She ran a great campaign. Her timing was great. And her core issue is one that resonates with a lot of Pennsylvanians, including many Republicans."
That resonance surrounding her Sandusky probe critique could be seen in Centre County's results in particular. In the Central Pennsylvania home of Penn State, the county's voters split evenly over the presidential race and broke for Democratic U.S. Sen. Bob Casey by a slim margin.
But in the attorney general's contest, voters in Centre County had an overwhelming preference: 56 percent for Ms. Kane to Republican David Freed's 40 percent.
Still, Mr. Borick said she may be walking "a bit of a tightrope" in regard to how aggressive she is in pursuing her review of that case or other potential missteps by the office or its leaders.
"The public has made it clear that they want more answers, but she still has to be careful to make sure it doesn't look like she's on some partisan quest," he said.
Asked before Tuesday night's returns began trickling in about Ms. Kane's harsh view of his work on the Sandusky case, Mr. Corbett said, "It seems like she's the one who's turned the attorney general's office political.
"She's more than welcome to see what we did. I go by the results, and the results have been pretty good."
As with most transitions, there likely will be more old faces remaining within the attorney general's office than new ones appearing.
Ms. Kane said Tuesday night that she plans to review the qualifications of the office's current workforce, "where they can best be used, and hopefully they'll stay on."
"I'm certainly not going in there with an agenda to clean house," she said. "It was never about party politics for me, and it will be the same with regard to staffing."
Harrisburg Bureau chief Laura Olson: email@example.com or 717-787-4254. First Published November 8, 2012 5:00 AM