Thirty seconds after starting his official campaign for governor of Pennsylvania, Josh Shapiro wanted to talk about voting rights.
The newly minted Democratic nominee announced his proposed nomination for governor in a two-minute video that quickly turned to the question. He knows the topic well: As Pennsylvania’s attorney general, Shapiro is defending against the flood of lawsuits filed by Donald Trump and his allies after the former president’s defeat in the 2020 election.
The races for governor in 2022 in Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin were viewed by Democrats as a wall against the growing Republican wave of voting restrictions and far-reaching electoral laws. All three states have Republican-controlled legislatures that tried to pass new voting laws but were blocked by threats of vetoes and feature Republican candidates who have been in favor of new voting laws.
Pennsylvania is the only state with an open race as current Governor Tom Wolfe is once again barred from competing. Mr. Wolff supported Mr. Shapiro several years before he announced that he had helped clear the democratic field.
We spoke to Mr. Shapiro on Wednesday as he drove to the homecoming rally in Montgomery County.
This interview has been condensed and lightly edited for clarity.
Your video ad focuses on threats to democracy. How do you run as a candidate?
JOSH SHAPIRO: Voting rights will be a central issue in this election. And that will definitely be the focus of my campaign. There is a clear contrast between me and about a dozen of my Republican opponents. They don’t sell big lies and sort of pass this far-right litmus test with their audits. And they are really destroying our democracy. I believe that the focus of this campaign will be the preservation of our democracy and the protection of voting rights.
Are you worried about excessive threats to democracy, especially when National Democrats in Congress remain stuck and do not take decisive steps to address it?
I believe that our democracy is indeed in danger. The only reason Pennsylvania has not suffered from the abolition of voting rights, like Texas and Georgia, is because of our governor’s pen veto. We need to protect the right to vote. And I would like to work with people from both parties to expand voting rights.
Where do you think you should pay attention to Democratic candidates, especially when talking 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 from 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 of Pennsylvania will have a tremendous responsibility in getting this job done. You know where I stand: expand your voice, defend our democracy.
In your speech in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, you mention “aisle work.” But with the Pennsylvania Legislature, you are currently suing for trying to get private information about voters, how do you plan to work with them?
I sued Republican senators from Pennsylvania because I believe they are breaking the law by endangering the personal information of 9 million Pennsylvania voters. Indeed, today, as attorney general, I will submit a brief summary of this case. But the reason I think I can work with them and others is because throughout my career I have had a lot of experience bringing parties together, finding common ground, and completing tasks for the benefit of the Pennsylvania people.
But is there any aspect of voting rights that you’ve seen in common with Republicans in the state legislature?
I spoke to Republican commissioners, state legislators, and election officials who all told me, let’s pass legislation that allows us to pre-screen ballots that arrive in the mail, like in Florida, North Carolina, and Ohio. This is an example of where we can find common ground.
California’s run-off elections have shown how quickly accusations of “election fraud” can be heard. How do you feel about governance in an era when winners are considered illegitimate by some voters?
Unfortunately, Republican leaders here in Pennsylvania have lied to their constituents for the past 10 months, lied to them about the elections, lied to them about the results, even though the truth is that we had safe and secure, free and fair elections in Pennsylvania. … So it comes as no surprise to me that some people in society question things when their leaders lie to them. Leaders have a responsibility to tell the truth. This is what I tried to do as attorney general. And that I will definitely do as governor. The audience deserves no less.
Democrats across the country have been successful in 2018 with a focus on health care, drug prices and jobs. Now this focus seems to be lost due to infrastructure and the reconciliation bill. Are you worried about coming out without a single national message for the Democrats?
I am running as a Pennsylvania Democrat with a clear call to take part in big battles, unite people and bring real results to the people of Pennsylvania. This is where my campaign is focused.
Okay, but will this include messages from 2018 like healthcare and jobs? Or changed to something else?
I do not deal with the national problems that you are talking about. I am focusing on local issues here in Pennsylvania. I was just talking in Pittsburgh, for example, about how we need to rebuild our infrastructure, repair roads and bridges, and connect every Pennsylvania citizen to the Internet from Waynesburg in southwest Pennsylvania to West Philadelphia. Really leverage the strengths of our universities to become centers of innovation. Make sure we are dealing with some of the systemic inequalities in our education and health care system here in Pennsylvania. These are the issues that I focus on and these are the issues that I know are important to the good people of Pennsylvania.
But I believe that, going back to the first question you asked, it will be more difficult to address these issues if we do not strengthen our democracy. This is why I believe that democracy and the right to vote are such a central theme. And if we can make sure our democracy is strengthened, then we can address these other critical issues.