In what he calls part 3 in of his essay on Penn State, Jerry Sandusky, and Governor Tom Corbett, author Bill Kiesling has pubished a very thoroughly researched, and engagingly written history of the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General – the appointed years. The essay is a chronology of the history of interrelationship between governors and attorneys general over the years, and the following excerpt covers the short period in the Shapp administration that immediately preceded the constitutional amendment making it an elected office.
Bill’s essay provides a great historical perspective as we begin to cover the 2012 election for attorney general, and is useful to anyone interested in the office. You can see the full article here.
Calamitous Shapp years bring an end to the appointed AG
After Fred Speaker’s tenure, a true calamity would befall the appointed office of Pennsylvania Attorney General. The calamity was arguably a man named Milton Shapp.
Milton Shapp served two terms as governor of Pennsylvania from 1971 to 1979. He was a self-made millionaire who made his money as a pioneer in the cable television business. Cutting corners in the cable business in Philadelphia made Shapp his fortune, but it turned out to be a bad idea for government. Shapp was a bright man whose heart was in the right place. But he was a terrible judge of horse flesh. Many of his appointments were bad. Some were outright criminals. His administration would be riddled with corruption.
Right from the gate, as he was sworn into office, Shapp sought major changes in the role of the state office of attorney general. Gov. Shapp’s appointment of J. Shane Creamer as his attorney general, Shapp wrote, was meant to change the sleepy and amiable state Justice Department into a “Public Interest Law Firm.” The state AG would no longer be just “The Governor’s Lawyer.”
“We will be aggressive in our attempts to move constructive forces for positive social change,” AG Creamer announced at his appointment in 1971.
One of the biggest yet not-so-noticed changes under AG Creamer would be that the attorney general’s office would physically relocate from its close proximity to the governor in the governor’s suite in the main capitol building to a separate building next to the rotunda on the capitol grounds.
The AG no longer would be close to the governor’s side, hour-by-hour, day-by-day.
Former AG Sennett recalls that he ran into AG Creamer shortly after the latter moved his office and staff to their own building outside the governor’s office.
“I asked Shane why he’d moved the office,” Sennett recounts, “and didn’t he miss no longer being in the thick of things?”
“I have a different sort of relationship to this guy,” he says AG Creamer said of Gov. Shapp.
AG Creamer, in fact, wouldn’t last long.
Despite Shapp’s good intentions, under his administration the state attorney general’s office quickly got bigger and, by most accounts, far worse, and far more political.
Ever-growing and outrageous corruption, and what was increasingly seen as Gov. Shapp’s blatant political misuse of the office of attorney general to cover up these misdeeds, would by the end of his terms spell the demise of the appointed state attorney general, and would directly lead to the elective office of AG that plagues Pennsylvania today.
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