Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro speaking at the Keystone candidate forum held at the Bok Building in Philadelphia, Oct. 19, 2022. (Photo: The Keystone) Josh Shapiro
Pennsylvania Attorney General and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Josh Shapiro speaking at the Keystone candidate forum held at the Bok Building in Philadelphia, Oct. 19, 2022. (Photo: The Keystone)

“I’m running against by far the most dangerous and extreme candidate ever to run for governor in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said of his opponent, Republican Doug Mastriano. “My opponent wants to strip away [abortion rights], with no exception, and we learned just about two weeks ago that he wants to charge women who have an abortion with murder.”

Pennsylvania gubernatorial hopeful Josh Shapiro on Wednesday made clear that he would do everything in his power to defend reproductive freedom and democracy in Pennsylvania, fight to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour, and create thousands of new jobs in the commonwealth. 

Appearing at the Keystone’s first-ever candidate forum held at the Bok Building in South Philadelphia, the Democrat and incumbent attorney general also issued a scathing rebuke of his Republican opponent, state Sen. Doug Mastriano (R-Franklin), over Mastriano’s history of anti-Semitic comments and his affiliation with the extremist website Gab. 

“I’m running against by far the most dangerous and extreme candidate ever to run for governor in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. 

The Keystone extended an invitation to Wednesday’s forum to Mastriano, but he did not respond.

Earlier in the evening, Keystone managing editor Patrick Berkery also led a panel featuring state Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta (D-Philadelphia), state Sen. Katie Muth (D-Berks), state Rep. Melissa Shusterman (D-Chester), and Lancaster City Council president Izzy Smith-Wade-El, a Democrat who is running for the state House seat in the 96th legislative district (Lancaster). 

The quartet of Democrats discussed Republican efforts to ban abortion and the GOP’s hypocrisy on the issue of public safety and refusal to act on gun safety legislation, among other topics. 

Here are the top takeaways from The Keystone’s interview with Shapiro and where he stands on the issues:

Shapiro on how he’d fight back against Republican efforts to ban abortion—either by legislation or the constitutional amendment they’ve introduced—and get around his veto pen

Shapiro was crystal clear: he will do everything in his power to defend reproductive freedom in Pennsylvania. Abortion is currently legal up to and through 24 weeks in Pennsylvania, but Mastriano and fellow Republicans have made clear they want to ban abortion in the commonwealth. 

“When they send me a bill to my desk to ban all abortion in Pennsylvania, I will swiftly veto it and send it right back to them,” Shapiro said. “My opponent wants to strip away state law, with no exception, and we learned just about two weeks ago that he wants to charge women who have an abortion with murder.”

Shapiro also made clear that even the GOP’s proposed constitutional amendment would not ban abortion in the commonwealth if he were elected governor. 

“A constitutional amendment will not be able to get around my veto pen. The Dobbs decision sent the issue back to the states,” Shapiro said. “What they are trying to do is say that our equal protection clause under our state constitution does not guarantee a woman the right to an abortion. She would still have a legal ability because the law would be in place, but she wouldn’t necessarily have a constitutional right.”

Shapiro predicted any such effort to pass such an amendment would fail. 

“There is no way in hell they will pass that here in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I will be leading the effort to defeat that amendment and any Republican that puts it on the ballot, I believe, will have a harder chance of winning.”

On what he will do if Mastriano contests the results on election night or claims the election was stolen:

In a grim sign of the times, Shapiro said he expected Mastriano to challenge the results given the Republican’s actions following the 2020 election, when he tried to stop the election results from being certified in Pennsylvania, joined the violent mob outside the Capitol on Jan. 6, and continued spreading lies all the way up until present day. 

“It’s clear he’s going to try to do the same thing this time,” Shapiro said. “What we need to do is simply let the Republican and Democratic clerks of elections in all 67 counties do what they did last time, which is to let people vote, count the votes, and respect the will of the people. I will respect the will of the people, I will accept the election results, and I will push back on any attempts by Doug Mastriano to overturn the will of the people.”

Shapiro repeatedly called Mastriano dangerous and extreme and said the Republican posed a threat to democracy.

“I truly fear for our commonwealth and our country if he is given the power,” Shapiro said. “If he is given the power to strike down your vote here in Pennsylvania, that undermines our democracy not just in the Keystone state, but also across the entire nation. We have a responsibility to not just defeat him, but to defend our democracy in the process.”

Shapiro also touted his track record defending Pennsylvania’s elections and voters in the lead-up and aftermath of the 2020 election. 

“The former president and his enablers sued us 43 times—first to make it harder for certain people to vote and then to stop your votes from being counted,” he said. “They went 0-43, I went 43-0 and we had a free and fair, safe, and secure election.”

On how he talks to his kids about the rise of hate speech and anti-Semitism—especially comments coming from Doug Mastriano—and how he addresses it as a candidate for governor

Shapiro, who is Jewish, did not hold back on what he thought about Mastriano’s history of anti-Semitic remarks and the dangers of fueling division and hate.

“When he attacks me because of my faith, I actually don’t get personally upset, but I get real pissed for every other Pennsylvanian who he’s attacking by virtue of singling one particular person because of their faith or because of what they look like,” Shapiro said. “That makes us all less safe and for a guy who’s seeking to lead this commonwealth, where you’re supposed to be a governor for all Pennsylvanians, he has shown himself time and time again to be utterly unfit for office and putting other lives at risk because of his dangerous extremism.”

Shapiro also lambasted the Republican for his ties to the extremist platform, Gab.

“Gab was the website that was used by the Tree of Life killer, the killer who went into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people while they worshipped, the [worst] anti-Semitic attack in our nation,” Shapiro said. “Yet that’s where Doug Mastriano went to recruit supporters to his campaign, on that same exact website.”

“He’s the only candidate in the nation actively recruiting white supremacists to be part of his campaign,” Shapiro added. 

He also criticized Mastriano for appearing on the grounds of the US Army War College in Carlisle wearing a confederate army uniform.

All of this fits together, unless you think like him and look like him and act like him and vote like him, you don’t count in his Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said.

On his plan to raise Pennsylvania’s $7.25 minimum wage to $15 per hour:

“We will, when I’m governor, raise the minimum wage to at least $15 an hour,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro appeared confident he could find a way to raise the minimum wage—even if Republicans controlled the legislature—by proposing it alongside a number of other policies, such as investing more in workforce development and tripling funding for apprenticeship programs.

On his plan to eliminate the 11% tax on cell phone bills, send car owners a $250 gas tax refund, and expand PA’s property tax rebate program, and lower taxes on businesses in Pennsylvania:

Shapiro emphasized that his proposal to cut taxes on business would be combined with investing more in workforce development and raising wages. 

“If you really want to help workers in Pennsylvania, you’ve got to create more jobs. You’ve got to create more economic opportunity. We are held back and losing jobs to neighboring states because we have a disadvantageous tax climate here in the commonwealth,” Shapiro said. 

He said he would focus on job creation in three areas: green energy jobs across the state, life sciences jobs in Philadelphia, and robotics jobs in Pittsburgh. 

On how he will work alongside election deniers and anti-choice lawmakers in Pennsylvania:

Shapiro spent much of the night taking Republicans to task for their election denial and efforts to ban abortion. But he also made clear that if elected, he would work to find common ground in order to benefit their shared constituents: the people of Pennsylvania. 

“I have a job to do on behalf of the people of Pennsylvania, if I’m fortunate enough to be elected their governor, and that job is to try and make their lives a little bit better every single day, to try to invest in our schools, public safety, grow our economy, deal with the systemic inequities that have held us back, and I believe we can find some common ground there,” Shapiro said. “I don’t think we can enter this arena with a purity test that’s going to stifle progress.”

On his plan to tackle climate change:

Shapiro said he planned to invest in and expand use of renewable energies, but not at the expense of jobs.

“It’s a false choice that we need to choose between the dignity of work and environmental justice. We can and we must do both,” he said.

He pledged to increase the share of renewable energy in Pennsylvania’s energy portfolio from 8%, where it currently sits, to 30% by the year 2030. “That’s going to move us in the direction that’s going to allow us to create thousands of green energy jobs,” Shapiro said.

He also highlighted the need to address orphaned wells and mines in the Northern Tier of Pennsylvania, which are an enormous source of emissions. 

“Each and every one of these nearly half-million orphaned wells and mines is leaking methane. It’s the number one driver of greenhouse gas emissions,” Shapiro said. “How about we plug those? How about we put a whole bunch of union trade men and women plugging those mines? That will not only address climate change, but it will create thousands of jobs.”

On how he’ll protect and expand the right to vote amid Republican efforts to make it harder to vote and lies about voter fraud:

Shapiro blasted Republicans for their efforts to restrict voting and contest election results and vowed to stop them from undermining the will of Pennsylvanians. 

“I’m a pro-democracy attorney general and I’ll be a pro-democracy governor here in the commonwealth of Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. “I will push back on any attempts to restrict your right to vote, particularly in communities of color that they’ve been attacking repeatedly in this process and make sure that people have access to the ballot box.” 

Shapiro took specific aim at the GOP’s hypocrisy over vote by mail in Pennsylvania, which state Republicans overwhelmingly voted for in 2019. 

“It wasn’t until after the former president started railing against it that they all got scared. They all started saying they were going to try and take away vote by mail. They all get scared because they are profoundly weak individuals who are willing to sell out our democracy, our Constitution, and our freedom,” Shapiro said. “My opponent is exhibit A of that phenomenon.”

“They’re working overtime on the other side to make it harder for you to vote. You have to ask yourself, why are they working so hard to take you away from the table of progress?” Shapiro continued. 

Shapiro also said he would take proactive steps towards passing automatic voter registration in Pennsylvania and even pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds as part of high school civics courses.

Ultimately, Shapiro said, being a pro-democracy leader is about respecting the will of voters, whether or not he agrees with them. 

“That’s the foundation of our democracy, the foundation of our freedom, and we have a unique responsibility to defend it here in Pennsylvania, the birthplace of our democracy just a few blocks away.”

On why he does so well in statewide elections when many other Democrats struggle:

Winning in Pennsylvania is about showing up in every community across the state, Shapiro said—even those that some Democrats have written off—and listening when you get there, showing respect, and making clear “you’re going to be their champion, even if you might disagree on certain issues.”

“You’ve got to show up, you’ve got to give a damn, and you’ve got to be true to your values and what you believe and not compromise that, but also show people a level of respect and that you’re going to fight for them day in and day out,” he added. 

On the the importance of elevating young leaders in the Democratic party:

Shapiro made clear that he believes the Democratic party needs to be doing everything it can to lift up a younger generation of elected officials.

“There is certainly a need for younger people to be in office. It is certainly important that we hear from the next generation of political leaders,” he said. “We need to make sure that all doors and all opportunities are open to new people.”

Shapiro cited the 32-year-old Kenyatta as a prime example of the kind of leader the party needs to elevate, as well as 33-year-old State Rep. Austin Davis (D-Allegheny), Shapiro’s running mate and candidate for Lt. Governor.

“He will be the first Black Lt. Governor in the history of Pennsylvania when we win this election. And it’s not just important he’ll be the first, as he will tell you, it’s critically important that he not be the last.”

On whether Biden can win in Pennsylvania again after winning narrowly in 2020:

“Sure, he won last time, he could win in the future if he chooses to run. Absolutely,” Shapiro said.

On whether he ever has any plans to run for president himself:

“No.” 

On why people should vote for him:

“Folks in Pennsylvania are worried and struggling right now. They’re worried about their kids’ mental health. They’re worried about where they fit into this changing economy. They’re worried that their fundamental freedoms are being taken away from them,” Shapiro said. “We need a governor who has a proven track record of taking on big fights, delivering real results, bringing people together to actually get big things done, to actually solve the pressing problems that folks are worried about right now.”

On who he thinks will win when the Eagles face off against the Steelers on Oct. 30:

Shapiro stayed true to his suburban Philly roots, answering “Eagles, without question.”

Shapiro also said he and Rep. Davis planned to do a tailgate at Lincoln Financial Field before the game. 

On his closing message to voters:

“You’ve got power in your vote, but you also have power in your voice. You are people who influence others….Encourage them to do their part to do our democracy proud, encourage them to do what their ancestors and their ancestors’ ancestors have done, which is to do the hard work to perfect our union and to protect our democracy,” Shapiro said. “That work falls to all of you. My name may be on the ballot, but it’s your rights and your future that are on the line right now. I’m going to do everything in my power to work for you, but I need your help and I need your vote.”