Josh Shapiro ran for governor as a consensus-builder, a message that carried him to a 15-point victory in last year’s gubernatorial election. He has political momentum behind him and a clear mandate from voters. But two months after being chosen as the state’s 48th chief executive, Shapiro will take office at a time when the political dynamic in Harrisburg couldn’t be more unpredictable.
Ahead of Shapiro’s inauguration today, City & State spoke with him about his goals for his first term in office and how he plans to steer his agenda through a divided state legislature. This interview has been condensed and edited for length and clarity.
You just wrapped up a pretty historic campaign for governor that saw you win by around 15 points and secure over 3 million votes. What has the last year or so been like for you?
It’s been exhilarating. It’s been humbling. The way people welcomed me and my family into their homes and their communities, sharing their concerns and their hopes, their fears, their worries – and ultimately trusted me to do something about all that – I’ve learned a lot. I think I’ve grown as a public servant and as a man, and I’m prepared to do the important work necessary to make their lives better.
Your transition team includes an FOP president and criminal justice reformers, former chairs of the state Republican and Democratic parties, union leaders and members of the business community. How has this “team of rivals” approach worked?
This transition team reflects people from all different walks of life, different political backgrounds, and different ideological viewpoints, and they’re working to help me put together plans to implement my vision for the commonwealth.
I think the real measure will be the administration we build – the senior staff we hire, the cabinet that we put in place. You’ll continue to see people from different walks of life, you’ll see bipartisanship, you’ll see people who may have different views on different issues.
I’m someone who likes to surround myself with people who will challenge me every day, who will make me a better governor by bringing different perspectives around the table to help us make meaningful progress for the good people of Pennsylvania.
As you settle into the governor’s office, there’s still a chance that the long-term control of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives could remain unsettled. Which party do you expect to be in the majority in the opening months of 2023? How do you see this leadership battle impacting your ability to push your agenda?
I think it’s clear that the voters made their voices heard on Election Day. They elected a Democratic majority in the House. It’s also very clear that they, in my election and theirs, rejected extremism, but most importantly, they gave all of us – Democrat and Republican – a mandate to come together and get things done. So, no matter what the courts decide and how this process plays out over the initial several weeks, as governor, I will be prepared to work with leaders from both parties to get things done because that's what the good people of Pennsylvania deserve.
Have you spoken with legislative leaders and have you found any common ground with them on issues that you want to address collectively in the opening months of 2023?
I’ve spoken to each of them multiple times, and while I’m not going to get into our private conversations, what’s clear to me is that all four of them want to work together and all four of them recognize we may have some differences on issues – and that’s OK.
But we have to learn in this building to disagree agreeably and move on to the next issue where we can find common ground and make progress. That’s something I’ve done throughout my career. That’s something that they’ve often done, and that’s something I’m going to expect of them and they should expect of me – that we’re going to just keep working at it to find common ground. I’m gonna do my best to bring the temperature down in the building and create an environment where we can work together to get things done.
Is there any low-hanging fruit you can tackle with bipartisan cooperation?
Actually, I think all the issues I talked about on the campaign trail enjoy bipartisan support. I talked about putting a mental health counselor in every school building in Pennsylvania. I’ve heard from Republicans and Democrats about the need to address youth mental health care. It’s in crisis and we have to do something about it. I received broad support from Republicans and Democrats about putting vo-tech back into our high school curriculums. I received support across the aisle about hiring more police officers in our communities, and investing more in economic development and growth, particularly in our rural communities. These are issues that enjoy broad bipartisan support, and I look forward to working with lawmakers to see those things to fruition.
I also am mindful that lawmakers have good ideas. I’m anxious to hear from them – what’s important to them – so that we can incorporate as much of that as we can into my initial budget and we can celebrate wins for Democrats, Republicans, House members, Senate members and our administration.
I don’t view our politics as a zero-sum game. I think everybody can get something out of this. I don’t think we should view Harrisburg as if one side wins, the other side has to lose. There can be wins across the board for both parties, but we have to just trust one another, work together and work on common-sense things that are going to help our education system, public safety and grow our economy.
Over the last eight years, there have been a lot of conversations about how Gov. Tom Wolf used executive power, with voters even choosing to scale back gubernatorial emergency powers. What will your approach to using executive power look like?
As I said before, Pennsylvanians gave us a mandate to bring people together and lead, and that’s exactly what I’m going to do. I want to work as much as we can within the legislative process to get that done. There are certain things that will be done by executive order. For example, I said on Day One, I would do away with the college degree requirements for thousands of state government jobs to open up the doors of opportunity for more people in Pennsylvania. I think that that is an appropriate use of executive power. I think we’d be hard-pressed to find any lawmakers who would disagree with that.
So, I think it’s a matter of using your executive authority that the legislature in the courts have given you to make positive change like that. But then also recognizing that you gotta do the hard work of meeting and talking and negotiating in order to get meaningful legislation passed.
Do you have any other Day One executive orders that you expect to sign?
That’s a big one. Doing away with the college degree requirements. We’ll also have some more to say about how to streamline and speed up the permitting and licensing process.
In your initial transition press conference, you mentioned how you plan on nominating a successor to the Office of Attorney General. Do you have any concerns with the optics of picking your own successor?
The law affords the governor the authority to appoint when there is a vacancy in the Office of Attorney General – and, by the way, treasurer and auditor general as well. So, I’ll be exercising that authority that is vested in the governor, not dissimilar to what Gov. Corbett did just a few years ago.
Fast-forwarding to the end of your time in the governor’s office – whenever that may be – What do you want your legacy to be when people reflect back on your time as Pennsylvania's governor?
When you write the story in 2030, it will hopefully be about a governor who brought people together to get things done, who made sure our kids had access to meaningful mental health care, who made our communities safer, who grew the economy and created jobs at a record rate because we showed Pennsylvania was open for business. A governor who, through it all, defended our real freedoms: the right to vote, the right to make decisions over your own body or marry who you love – those fundamental freedoms were protected right here in the birthplace of our democracy under Gov. Shapiro’s leadership.