Pennsylvania Attorney General candidate makes his case: Democratic candidate Josh Shapiro speaks to The Gettysburgian

Shapiro walking the beat with a police officer in his hometown. Photo credit: Joe Grace.

Shapiro walking the beat with a police officer in his hometown. Photo credit: Joe Grace.

By Benjamin Pontz, Staff Writer

Although the race for the White House has certainly grabbed the limelight ahead of the upcoming November election, some of the most consequential races are further down the ballot. In Pennsylvania, one of those races is for Attorney General; Democrat Josh Shapiro and Republican John Rafferty are vying to replace the recently ousted Kathleen Kane, a Democrat convicted of felony perjury charges who was forced to resign last month.

The Gettysburgian had an opportunity to interview Mr. Shapiro, a county commissioner in Montgomery County; Mr. Rafferty, a state senator whose district includes parts of Chester, Berks, and Montgomery Counties, did not respond to an interview request.

Among the centerpieces of Shapiro’s platform is a six-point plan aimed to curb sexual assault on college campuses. He plans to use the outreach division of the Attorney General’s office to promote education and a “culture of consent,” work to develop model guidelines for campuses to respond to sexual assault incidents, enhance on-campus services to victims, expedite forensic analysis of medical tests from sexual assault victims, help colleges comply with federal laws and hold colleges criminally liable for covering up sexual assault crimes on their campuses for reputation management. Notably, Gettysburg College’s Title IX coordinator Jennifer McCary said that almost all of these provisions are already in place at Gettysburg. “Since 2011, we have been making significant changes and progress in promoting prevention and helping people to understand consent,” McCary said. A recent campus climate survey, though, found 10 percent of respondents reporting sexual assaults. Shapiro responded by saying that although he would want to dig deeper into the college’s efforts to stop campus sexual assault, he applauds the college for taking these steps.

“Obviously, the power I have if someone rapes someone on campus, we can arrest them. That is the ultimate power of a prosecutor,” he said. “My goal is to try to change the culture on campus and prevent these assaults from occurring. We need to be more open and honest about what’s going on on our campuses.”

Another component of Shapiro’s campaign platform is a promise to impose stricter penalties on polluters including on “frackers,” companies that extract from Marcellus Shale particularly in the northern regions of Pennsylvania. Referring to a “constitutional right to clean air and pure water,” Shapiro is adamant that the Attorney General must act aggressively to protect not only the environment but the rights of Pennsylvanians under their state constitution as well.

“For too long, Pennsylvania Attorneys General have failed to aggressively go after polluters,” he said. “I can bring impact litigation against these entities when there’s evidence they’ve undermined this constitutional right. We need to increase coordination between AG and DEP, and I think we need tougher penalties so that polluters don’t just pay their fine and think that’s the cost of doing business. They need to understand that we’re going to put them out of business if they are dumping chemicals in the water.”

Shapiro has faced criticism from his Republican opponent as well as various challengers during his campaign to become the Democratic nominee that his ethics have been substandard while serving in previous political offices. Sen. Rafferty alleged in an August column that Shapiro awarded government contracts to campaign contributors while he was a county commissioner. Shapiro responded that he laughed at the column and proceeded to indict Rafferty’s record in becoming a “creature of the special interests” during his “two decades” in Harrisburg. Rafferty has been a state senator since 2003.

For his part, Shapiro touted a track record of work for good government. “I have passed more legislation on more issues related to ethics than I would venture to say almost anyone in Pennsylvania and certainly my opponent,” Shapiro said.

He went on to challenge students and voters to look at politicians’ records more deeply than their rhetoric to determine whether their assertions are trustworthy. Over the past several years, pundits have speculated that Shapiro would run for United States Senate or Pennsylvania Governor, but instead, he chose this race because he believes he can “do the most for the people of Pennsylvania.”

“Whether it’s prosecuting debt collectors who prey on students and veterans, protecting every Pennsylvanian’s civil and constitutional rights or making communities safer by getting illegal guns and drugs off our streets, Attorney General is the job,” he said.

Now, the job of Pennsylvanians is to go to the polls. Election Day is November 8, and the voter registration deadline in Pennsylvania is October 11.

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Author: Benjamin Pontz

Benjamin Pontz '20 serves as managing news editor of The Gettysburgian, a position he has held since the middle of his first year, during which he wrote 50 articles on topics ranging from student activism on campus to sports. Ben also served as the event coverage and social media coordinator and led the paper's inaugural efforts using Facebook Live and live tweeting events on campus. He is a political science and public policy double major with a minor in music, and he reads up to seven newspapers daily. Follow him on Twitter @benpontz.

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