Mr. District Attorney

Tuesday, September 28, 2010: Over coffee at the Cosi’s in Philadelphia’s 30th Street train station, I was listening to an analysis of the upcoming elections from Christopher Freind, the Peck’s Bad Boy of on-line journalism in the Keystone State.

Freind, also a fixture on local radio and TV talk shows, had already surprised me by predicting that the U.S. Senate race between conservative Republican Pat Toomey and liberal Democrat Joe Sestak was “a nail-biter that would go down to the wire. Don’t buy all these polls showing Toomey with a big lead.” (He was right—Toomey won in a “nail-biter.”)

“And the race for Sestak’s seat in the 7th [District] is going to be closer than you think,” Freind admonished me, “You think [Republican Pat] Meehan is a sure thing. But, listen: [Democratic nominee and State Rep. Bryan] Lentz is one tough customer. He’s an Iraq veteran, a tireless campaigner, and just yesterday, he showed up at a press conference Pat was holding and upstaged him. Keep your eye on that.”

I did—and Meehan, former district attorney of Delaware County, defeated Lentz by a comfortable margin of 55% to 44%.

“And Chris lives in the 7th!,” Rep. Meehan exclaimed with a laugh, when I shared this pre-election prediction with him a few weeks ago, “I remember when [Lentz] showed up at my press conference and it got on television. It was a non-facto —internal baseball.

“What really mattered was that he supported cap and trade and public option in health care and had voted for [Democratic Gov. Ed] Rendell’s $1 billion tax increase in Harrisburg. I campaigned on the theme of invigorating the private sector to creat jobs jobs by getting government off our backs. The people saw the difference between us, all right.”

There was another factor that the 56-year-old Meehan didn’t mention: credibility. He had been his county’s top prosecutor and then a two-fisted U.S. Attorney who waged an all-out war on public corruption for eight years.

Meehan’s relentless efforts led to the indictment, prosecution and conviction of State Senate Democratic Leader Vincent Fumo on more than 139 counts of misusing tax dollars and his office. Recalling that Fumo was sentenced to federal prison for four
years, Meehan tersely remarked: “It was punishment, all right, but not nearly as long as the sentencing guidelines called for.”

It was under Meehan that probes were also launched that exposed the “pay to play” schemes of several high-level officials in
Philadelphia, among them City Treasurer Corey Kemp.

Like Elliot Ness and Rudy Giuliani, Bowdoin University and Temple University Law School graduate Meehan was seen less of a politician and more of a lawman, and thus trusted by voters of disparate political leanings.

“Technology in the Air Can’t Replace Real Intelligence on the Ground”

Like most of his colleagues, Pennsylvania’s Meehan won’t commit to voting to raise the debt ceiling without accompanying spending cuts and restraints.

“But I won’t just join in the chorus for wholesale elimination of government programs, either,” he told me, “We need zero-based budgeting each year. That means government justifies the commitment of expenditures and the substance of programs are reviewed before we fund them.”

Meehan plans to advance this concept on the House Government Oversight Committee. In addition, the congressman plans to tackle unfunded mandates to the states and anti-business regulations from his seat on the Financial Services Committee.

But given his background in law enforcement, Meehan is increasingly looked for leadership on the terrorism-fighting front.

“Law enforcement must keep up the pace with technology—no question about it,” says the former prosecutor, who also serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, “We’re into the fourth generation of hand-held communication devices, so the nature of technology is changing all the time. Just the fact that you have ‘lone wolf’ terrorists—such as the one who attempted to detonate a bomb in Times Square –is proof of this. We’re nearly ten years from 9/11 and there are limitless
ways we can be compromised.”

But, Meehan quickly noted, “technology in the air cannot replace real intelligence on the ground.” On this subject, he speaks with authority, having frequently used undercover informants while Delaware County’s D.A. and U.S. attorney.

The Keystone State lawmaker also strongly backs reauthorization of the Patriot Act, which he believes is “as responsible as anything for the fact there has been no attacks on U.S. soil since 9/11. The record speaks for itself.”

Meehan looks forward to posing what he calls “healthy questions” to Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano about the nature of protecting Americans at home.” In his words, “Our brave men and women in uniform have kept Al Qaeda on its heels overseas. But there are multiple contributions still to be made toward the protection of our home.”

Looking at both his record in Pennsylvania and the agenda he has set for himself in Congress, it is likely that one of the players in making those contributions will be Rep. Meehan himself—“Mr. District Attorney” of the 112th Congress.