Thirty seconds after his official campaign for governor in Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro wanted to talk about voting rights.
The newly minted Democratic nominee announced his anticipated candidacy for governor in a two-minute video that quickly addressed the issue. It’s a subject he knows well: As a Pennsylvania Attorney General, Mr. Shapiro has defended himself against a torrent of lawsuits filed by Donald J. Trump and his allies following the loss of the former president in 2020.
The 2022 races for governor in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin are seen by Democrats as a seawall against a rising Republican tide of voting restrictions and far-reaching electoral laws. All three states have Republican-controlled lawmakers that tried to pass new voting laws but were blocked by the threat of a veto, and have Republican candidates who have argued for new voting laws.
Pennsylvania is the only state with an open race, as current governor Tom Wolf has a term restriction on running again. mr. Wolf supported Mr. Shapiro years before announcing it, and helped clear the Democratic field.
We spoke to Mr. Shapiro on Wednesday as he traveled to his homecoming meeting in Montgomery County.
This interview has been abbreviated and slightly edited for clarity.
Your announcement video focuses primarily on threats to democracy. How do you deal with that as a candidate?
JOSH SHAPIRO: Voting rights will be a central theme in this election. And it will certainly be a focal point of my campaign. There is a clear contrast between me and my dozen Republican opponents. They are spreading the big lie and passing these far right litmus tests with their audits. And they are really destroying our democracy. I believe a central focus of this campaign will be on preserving our democracy and protecting voting rights.
Are you concerned about over-hyping threats to democracy, especially as National Democrats in Congress remain in a stalemate and are not taking drastic steps to address them?
I think our democracy is really under threat. The only reason Pennsylvania hasn’t suffered as Texas and Georgia have suffered from voting rights rollbacks is because of our governor’s veto power. We must protect the right to vote. And I’d love to work with people from both sides to extend voting rights.
Where do you think Democratic candidates are and what you should focus on, especially when you talk about these threats to voting rights across the country?
I don’t think I can speak for another candidate, I can only speak for myself. I am a proud Democrat in Pennsylvania, and here in Pennsylvania we were the birthplace of our democracy. And we have a special responsibility here to protect it. And I believe the next governor in Pennsylvania will have a great responsibility to do that job. You know where I stand: extend voting rights, protect our democracy.
You refer to “working down the aisle” in your speech Wednesday in Pittsburgh. But with a Pennsylvania legislator currently suing you over an attempt to obtain voter personal information, how do you plan to work with them?
I have sued those Republican senators in Pennsylvania because I believe they are breaking the law by endangering the private information of 9 million voters in Pennsylvania. And indeed, today, as Attorney General, I will file a response statement in that case. But the reason I think I can work with them and others is that throughout my career I’ve had a long track record of bringing parties together, finding common ground, and getting things done that benefit the Pennsylvanians.
But is there any aspect of voting rights where you’ve seen common ground with Republicans in the state legislature?
I’ve talked to Republican commissioners, state legislators and election officials who have all said to me, Let’s pass a law that allows us to do pre-checked ballots like they do in, say, Florida and North Carolina and Ohio. That is an example of where we can find common ground.
California’s recall elections showed how quickly accusations of “rigged elections” are circulating. How do you view governing in an era where winners are considered illegitimate by some of their constituents?
Sadly, Republican leaders here in Pennsylvania for the past 10 months have been lying to their voters, lying to them about the election, lying to them about the results, when the truth is we had safe, free and fair elections in Pennsylvania. So I’m not surprised that some people in the audience are questioning things when their leaders have lied to them. Leaders have a responsibility to speak the truth. That’s what I’ve tried to do as Attorney General. And what I’m definitely going to do as governor. The public deserves nothing less.
Democrats across the country have seen success in 2018 with a focus on healthcare, drug prices and jobs. Now that focus seems to be lost amid infrastructure and a reconciliation bill. Worried about walking without a nationally cohesive message for Democrats?
I am active as a Democrat in Pennsylvania, with a clear message to take the big fight, bring people together and deliver real results to the people of Pennsylvania. That is the focus of my campaign.
OK, so, would that cover 2018 posts like healthcare and jobs? Or has it turned into something else?
The national issues you are talking about are not my focus. My focus is on problems here in Pennsylvania. I just spoke in Pittsburgh about how to rebuild our infrastructure, repair roads and bridges, and connect every Pennsylvania to the Internet, from Waynesburg in southwestern Pennsylvania to West Philadelphia. Really take advantage of our universities to be able to become centers of innovation. Making sure we address some of the systemic inequalities in our education and health care system here in Pennsylvania. Those are the things I focus on, and those are the things I know are important to the good people of Pennsylvania.
But I believe, going back to the first question you asked, if we don’t strengthen our democracy, it’s going to be more difficult to deal with those issues. And that is why I think democracy and the right to vote are such a central theme. And if we can ensure that our democracy is strengthened, we can solve these other crucial issues.