Office sought: Pennsylvania Attorney General
Shapiro is the chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners, on which he has sat since 2012. Previously, he represented the 153rd District in the state House of Representatives. For more information, visit www.joshshapiro.org.
PGN: The image and reputation of the Attorney General’s Office have taken a hit in recent months. What would you do to restore the public’s faith in the office?
JS: It’s going to require at least two things. One, a competent executive who knows how to lead a government. I lead the Montgomery County government, which is four times larger than the Office of Attorney General. I know how to take over a messy situation and turn it around and make it work. Second, I have a plan on restoring integrity to the office. My first paper in the campaign way back in January was my integrity agenda, specifically talking about what I would do in office on day one. I’ll require everyone to sign a code of conduct. Two, everyone will have mandated ethics training on a regular basis. Three, I’m going to hire a chief diversity officer and that is critically important because one of the problems this office has had is that when it comes time to make big decisions, everybody [making the decisions] looks the same. There haven’t been people of color, LGBT people, not many women, people with diverse life experiences. I think it’s really important to have diversity around that small table in order to make smart decisions. Finally, we need to ban all gifts.
PGN: Pennsylvania still lacks LGBT-inclusive nondiscrimination and hate-crimes laws. What would you do within your jurisdiction as Attorney General to address these issues?
JS: Back when I was in the House, I was one of the original cosponsors of what is now known as the Fairness Act. I was proud to stand with that coalition when it was about 10 of us — now it’s well over 100 — and I’m going to use the bully pulpit to advocate to pass this legislation. And then use my authority as Attorney General to root out any kind of discrimination against our LGBTQ brothers and sisters. When I started running back in January, I had in my first ad a scene about marriage equality, and in addition to that, in probably every speech where I am in Pennsylvania I talk about people’s constitutional protections, including the right to not be discriminated against, specially focusing on our LGBTQ brothers and sisters who don’t have the same protections. It’s heartening that no matter where I go in the commonwealth, people applaud for that. It shows how far we’ve come. Obviously, we have a lot more to do, and I’m anxious to use my position as Attorney General to continue to advance the cause.
PGN: Gun control came to the forefront of the LGBT community after the mass shooting in Orlando. What do you see as the best strategy of advancing effective gun-control reform in Pennsylvania?
JS: First off, you need to have an Attorney General willing to take on the gun lobby. My opponent has gotten an A rating from the NRA and was endorsed by the NRA. You can’t trust him to take on the gun lobby and deal with this crisis in our community. I have put forth a specific plan on what I would do: One, expand background checks to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and those who are mentally ill. We need to make sure we expand the gun-violence task force that exists today between the Attorney General’s Office and the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office. It needs to be beefed up and also expanded to other regions around Pennsylvania. We have to crack down on straw purchasers. I will use my authority to end reciprocity agreements with other states that people go to to pass checks for concealed carry that is weaker than ours in Pennsylvania. The key issue here is you’ve got to have an attorney general willing to take on the gun lobby. Throughout my whole career I have, and I won’t be afraid to stand up and protect the LGBT or any other community in Pennsylvania from gun violence.
PGN: What would you do to combat the disproportionately high levels of violence faced by transgender women of color?
JS: That type of hate crime, that type of discrimination, that type of bullying is something we will be very serious about in combatting. I was the sponsor of language to expand hate-crimes protection to LGBTQ and unfortunately the House didn’t pass it before I left five years ago, but it is something needed. As Attorney General, I will take seriously and prosecute those crimes.
PGN: The city’s Police Advisory Commission and numerous LGBT-advocacy groups have recommended that the state Attorney General’s Office review the Nizah Morris case; are you familiar with this? If elected, will you initiate a review of the Morris case?
JS: I am familiar with the case. Here is my view overall on crime where police are involved. I do not have the jurisdiction as attorney general to take that case from the local D.A. but I have said that I would support the legislature giving me that authority. I would also make myself and my office available on a voluntary basis to any D.A. in any jurisdiction who wishes to send me a case so there can be an independent review.
PGN: How will you work to bridge divides among law-enforcement communities and people of color?
JS: I’ve been working on these issues for a long time as chair of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime. We need to have programs to bring police and the community closer together to allow them the opportunity to understand one another better and respect one another more. These programs are working; we’re seeing great results in communities where we’re able to deploy these programs. We spend a lot of money and time focused on training of police officers on their physical characteristics — and those things are very, very important — but it’s also important we have training available to police officers to understand communities and people who look different than them, training to be able to handle different kinds of situations. That kind of training is welcomed by police, by folks like Commissioner Ross, people like FOP leader John McNesby. It strengthens the community.
PGN: What is the biggest issue facing the LGBT community right now?
JS: I think there’s many issues facing Pennsylvanians, not unique to LGBT people. The heroin and opioid epidemic is a challenge we all face. But within the LGBT community, discrimination and crime as a result of someone being LGBT have to be at the top of that list. Having an attorney general who is sensitive to those issues, who shows up in the Gayborhood for OutFest, who is someone the community feels comfortable coming to and working with, will help address these issues.
PGN: Why should the LGBT community vote for you?
JS: I’ve always been there for the community: leading the way to issue the first marriage licenses to same-sex couples in Montgomery County, where we were the first county to do so; leading in the legislature as an original cosponsor of the Fairness Act; having a history of protecting the rights, health and safety of the LGBT community and all Pennsylvanians; and being someone, quite frankly, who in my core raises his four children to understand that we are all equal and are all people deserving of respect. I am the only candidate running who will consistently apply the law without fear and without favor. And that, I think, will be to the benefit of the LGBT community. I have a history of standing up for the community. I hope the community stands up for me Nov. 8 and makes me their Attorney General.
The Republican nominee for Attorney General, John Rafferty, did not respond to PGN’s request for an interview.