Thursday, April 21, 2011

Attorney General Race Gets New Face

Former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy is running for Attorney General of Pennsylvania, and he’s entering the race with broad support from party leaders. Former Democratic Chair T.J. Rooney, 2010 gubernatorial nominee Dan Onorato, and Congressmen Tim Holden, Jason Altmire and Chaka Fattah are endorsing his run, along with nearly a dozen state representatives and senators.

In a phone interview, Murphy said he’s running because, “The people of Pennsylvania need someone to stand up for them. …They need someone who’s going protect them against criminals on the street, from big special interests who prey against our most vulnerable, including seniors, and they need an outsider to Harrisburg who will root out corruption.”

“I spent my life fighting for people,” he said. “In the Army I prosecuted terrorists who tried to kill American soldiers. I tried criminals who broke the law, and I taught con law at West Point.” Murphy, who lost his seat to Republican Mike Fitzpatrick last year, was the first Iraq War veteran to serve in Congress. His House career encapsulated the country’s political swings: he won in the big Democratic cycles of 2006 and 2008, but lost during last year’s Republican surge.

Murphy praised then-Attorney General Tom Corbett’s investigation of corruption at the state Capitol, saying, “People in Pennsylvania are tired of folks there who are feathering their own nest. We need to make a higher priority, moving forward, of prosecuting public corruption.” When asked whether he would have handled the investigation differently, Murphy repeated the “feathering their own nest” line. He declined to comment on whether he thought Corbett had spent more time investigating Democrats than Republicans, as many in Murphy’s party have claimed. If the “Bonusgate” investigation is still open after he takes office, Murphy said he would “absolutely” continue it.

Murphy is perhaps best known for authoring last year’s federal law overturning the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which barred gays and lesbians from openly serving in the armed forces. He brushed aside a question about whether the issue will hurt in the conservative portion of the state frequently referred to as “the T.” “I learned Central Pennsylvania values when I worked at a factory – at the Reese’s factory in Hershey. And I went to school in central Pennsylvania,” said Murphy. “And I will tell you: most central Pennsylvanians and the folks across Pennsylvania agree where I do. That if you’re willing to take a bullet to keep our families safe and serve in uniform, you should be able to do-so openly.” A Washington Post/ABC News poll taken at the time of last year’s Congressional vote showed nearly 80 percent of Americans supported the repeal.

(Murphy repeated his line about “learning Central Pennsylvania values at…the Reese’s plant” several times throughout our conversation.)

The Office of the Attorney General hasn’t been kind to Democrats: Republicans have held the post ever since it became an elected position in 1980. Murphy is the first high-profile candidate to enter the race. No Republicans have announced a run, and Corbett’s pick to fill out his term, assistant U.S. Attorney Linda Kelly, has promised not to run in 2012.

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