Attorney General Josh Shapiro says he “inherited a mess” earlier this year when he assumed his role following the scandal-plagued years of Kathleen Kane.
Shapiro, a Montgomery County Democrat, campaigned with a message of restoring ethics and integrity to the office after Kane was convicted of perjury, obstruction of justice and other crimes last year.
More than five months taking on the role, Shapiro met with LNP’s editorial board Wednesday to discuss how he’s been following through on that campaign promise and more.
Here are a few takeaways from the conversation.
1. Restoring integrity
The first step Shapiro said he took to restore confidence in the Office of Attorney General was by instituting a code of conduct that every employee voluntarily signed as a “reaffirmation of their commitment to ethics and integrity.”
He has also enforced mandatory ethics trainings and is committed to a creating a “cultural shift” in which employees have pride in their work.
His motto, he said, is to “do the right things for the right reasons, each and every time, and make your decisions based on the facts and the law.”
Shapiro was recently reported as having accepted gifts in 2016, when he was running for his current position.
Those included $2,139 in Philadelphia Sixers tickets and $810 in Pittsburgh Penguins tickets for personal use — something that Philadelphia Daily News columnist John Baer called “hypocrisy” because Shapiro’s platform included a “comprehensive gift ban for public officials.”
When asked about the issue, Shapiro emphasized the gifts were taken before he was in office and that he and his team are committed to a gift ban now.
“That is in place just as I promised it would be and it is something that I and the team will adhere to,” he said.
3. On the opioid crisis
Shapiro considers the opioid epidemic the number one public safety issue in Pennsylvania today. He detailed the need for a “broad multidisciplinary approach” that includes implementing more treatment, getting drug dealers off the streets and working with doctors and pharmaceutical companies to reduce prescription opioids.
He said his office has arrested at least three drug dealers every day since he’s been in office. He’s also asking the Legislature for a 17 percent increase in his office’s total budget, much of which would go toward dealing with the epidemic through new agents and local drug task forces.
“We understand the difference between a drug dealer, where I think we have to be merciless and lock him up for a long time, and someone who’s nonviolent, who’s not dealing, and who’s an addict, who needs treatment.”
4. Joining the climate coalition
In the wake of President Trump withdrawing from the Paris climate agreement last week, Shapiro joined a coalition of 19 other attorneys general who opposed the move.
Shapiro said, “There is a constitutional right in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to clean air and pure water, and nothing the president did on Paris will change that.”
He noted that his office has hired a chief deputy attorney general for environmental protection.
5. Penn State case
Shapiro said it was significant that jail sentences were handed down last week in the cases of former Penn State administrators Graham Spanier, Gary Schultz and Tim Curley for their roles in the Jerry Sandusky child sex abuse case.
He said it “sends a strong message” that “you can’t turn a blind eye for protecting children in Pennsylvania no matter who you are.”