Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro wants to continue to be the people’s lawyer.
After four years in office, he’s asking voters to judge him on his accomplishments as he seeks reelection on Nov. 3.
“I’ve got a proven track record of taking on the big fights and putting people before powerful institutions,” he said. “And I’ve done what I said I was going to do.”
During his time in office, Shapiro helmed an investigation of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church, lawsuits against loan servicing company Navient Corp. for predatory lending and a lawsuit against Purdue Pharma, the creator of prescription painkiller OxyContin, which has been identified as a major cause of the country’s opioid crisis.
Shapiro also filed lawsuits against the United States Postal Service in response to operational changes made by Postmaster General Louis DeJoy, including limiting extra shifts, which Shapiro’s office said could interfere with the timely delivery of mail-in ballots, as well as medical prescriptions, paychecks and bills.
Shapiro, a Democrat, pulled off a win in 2016 despite Pennsylvania swinging red for President Donald Trump. He attributes his success to showing up for communities that often went ignored by Democrats and believes that strategy will carry him to victory again this year.
“I showed them a plan for how I would fight for them. Now, four years later, I’ve gone back to those communities, those forgotten communities, many times and delivered real results: money back for consumers, drug dealers off the streets, rights protected,” he said.
Shapiro named tackling the opioid crisis, climate change, gun violence, threats to civil rights and the coronavirus pandemic as some of his priorities for a new term.
“I talk to moms who’ve lost their sons to an opioid overdose, who are included in my conversations about how we’re holding the pharmaceutical executives accountable for their role in manufacturing the opioid crisis. I’m talking to parents in rural Southwestern Pennsylvania who couldn’t put their children in the bathtub because fracking companies had poisoned their water and it wasn’t safe for their children to bathe or drink. I talk to grandmas in Philadelphia who lost their grandchildren to guns. And I’ve worked hard for all of these individuals who are struggling,” he said.
He also has an eye on rising anti-Semitism and hate crimes in the state. Shapiro has been subject to anti-Semitic slurs and attacks throughout his tenure, but said he was more concerned about the impact of hate crimes on his constituents. He cited the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue building in Pittsburgh as an example of the dangers of unchecked hate speech.
“That’s one of the reasons why we started a civil rights division — in order to protect all people, no matter what they look like, or where they come from, or who they love or who they pray to,” he said. “We’ve aggressively tried to combat racism and anti-Semitism, not only through making arrests and filing lawsuits, but by trying to tamp down on the hate speech that exists in our community.”
Shapiro’s opponent, Republican Heather Heidelbaugh, is a trial lawyer who previously served on the Allegheny County Council as an at-large member. Her platform also includes tackling the opioid crisis, as well as decriminalizing the actions of the mentally ill.
“I want to devote a considerable amount of time to trying to tackle that as a societal issue,” she said.
She has criticized Shapiro for creating units dedicated to impact litigation and favors a more restrained role for the office.
“That sort of unit is not outlined in the Commonwealth Attorneys Act,” she said. “So the question is whether you want to devote your resources to suing the federal government because you disagree with the policies, or whether you’re going to use the resources to fight crime here in Pennsylvania, to handle cases that are referred to the Attorney General’s Office from a district attorney.”
Shapiro wants to think bigger.
“That demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of our laws here in Pennsylvania, and what the people of Pennsylvania really need from their leaders,” he said. “They need someone who’s willing to fight for them, defend their rights, not someone who’s going to support special interests and limit the role of the Office of Attorney General.”
Terry Madonna, professor of public affairs and director of the Franklin and Marshall College Poll, said Shapiro has the wind at his back for several reasons, including his appeal in populous Philadelphia suburbs that have gone Democratic in the past several elections and his time traveling the state.
“He’s advantaged by the fact that he understands and knows the state quite well. Voters tend to know him because of the service, and he’s been very high-profile,” he said. “He’s been going around the state doing talks and has not been confined to the capital in Harrisburg, and that’s very important.”