Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner takes questions from reporters after a press conference in Harrisburg on Friday, 10/21/22. (Capital-Star photo by Marley Parish)
When the Pennsylvania House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach Democratic Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner, a lone Republican voted “no.”
Although the historic measure passed 107-85 over the objections of Democrats, state Rep. Mike Puskaric, R-Allegheny, broke ranks and voted against the action, which he said he believed would set a disastrous precedent for the future.
“This is something that I’ve been pretty steadfast on from the beginning,” said Puskaric, a two-term lawmaker who lost a GOP primary election to Rep.-elect Andrew Kuzma, who will represent the 39th House District in January.
Puskaric said that while he believes Krasner’s progressive policies and the work of his office have been detrimental to Philadelphia, a disagreement of ideology is not a reason to remove a duly elected official from office.
If the shoe was on the other foot, and Democrats were able to pass gun safety legislation and rural district attorneys said they weren’t going to enforce it, “then they could round them up and run them out of office,” Puskaric said.
Republican lawmakers have targeted Krasner, who was overwhelmingly re-elected to a second term in 2021, for his decisions not to prosecute some minor crimes and his policies on requesting bail and pursuing alternatives to prison for some offenders.
Republicans claim Krasner’s approach to law enforcement over the last five years correlates to an increase in violent crime, carjacking and robberies.
On Friday, House Speaker Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, appointed Rep. Craig Williams, R-Delaware; Rep. Tim Bonner, R-Mercer; and Rep. Jared Solomon, D-Philadelphia, to serve as impeachment managers in a state Senate trial on the articles of impeachment.
Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, said the Senate would meet before the end of the session on Nov. 30. The Senate would need to set rules for a trial and vote to accept the articles, but a timeline for a trial is unclear.
The articles of impeachment allege he engaged in misconduct in office and obstructed an investigation by a House panel charged with investigating his office.
Rep. Mike Zabel, D-Delaware, was one of several Democrats who made impassioned speeches on the House floor. He addressed Republican colleagues directly about the gravity of their decision whether to vote for impeachment.
Zabel served as an assistant district attorney in Philadelphia under Krasner’s predecessor, and made the point that prosecuting criminal cases in one of the nation’s largest cities is a complex process with never-ending challenges.
“These articles take the statewide and nationwide trends in crime and violent crime and simplistically lay them at the feet of the Philadelphia District Attorney. We all know better. Scapegoats are not solutions,” Zabel said.
Addressing lawmakers who were not sure whether to go through with the vote, he said it was hard not to be cynical about the articles of impeachment because it was clear they would pass despite being “like a plate of spaghetti thrown against the wall.”
“These articles take the statewide and nationwide trends in crime and violent crime and simplistically lay them at the feet of the Philadelphia District Attorney,” Zabel continued. “We all know better. scapegoats are not solutions.
“You’re supposed to look at it not too carefully, and just throw up your hands and say what a mess,” Zabel said. “And to those of you who are uneasy with this process and how it’s gone, fight that urge, fight the urge to throw your hands in the air and go what a mess. Really consider for a moment as legislators, what should be the grounds for impeachment.”
Zabel said he spoke privately with a number of Republican lawmakers who expressed concerns with what a vote to impeach Krasner would mean in the future. They voted to impeach anyway, Zabel said.
“There were a significant number of Republicans who believe this is the right and appropriate thing to do,” Zabel said. “There are others who I have a hard time believing they voted for it on the principle of the matter.”
He said the partisan nature of Krasner’s impeachment is thrown into sharp relief by a comparison to the House Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Courts investigation of Republican Schuylkill County Commissioner George Halcovage, who was accused by several women county employees of sexual harassment.
The subcommittee conducted hearings and heard from witnesses before recommending the resolution to conduct an impeachment investigation be reported out to the House. The House adopted the resolution more than a year ago with a unanimous vote.
“I’m confident that whatever the end result of that investigation is it will be done fairly,” Zabel said.
Zabel said he was hopeful that his speech would inspire more of his Republican colleagues to vote against impeaching Krasner. But Puskaric’s vote as the lone Republican to impose the articles of impeachment is significant.
“I thought and still think that no votes are an important message to history,” Zabel said.
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