Josh Shapiro Running for Attorney General “To Clean Up a Mess”

Montco chairman will challenge Kathleen Kane.

In this Sept. 4, 2013 file photo, Josh Shapiro speaks in Harrisburg, Pa. Shapiro will announce his candidacy to be attorney general on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower, File)

In this Sept. 4, 2013 file photo, Josh Shapiro speaks in Harrisburg, Pa. Shapiro will announce his candidacy to be attorney general on Tuesday. (AP Photo/Bradley C Bower, File)

When he formally announces his candidacy for attorney general on Tuesday, Josh Shapiro will do so in a three-and-a-half-page letter to Pennsylvanians that never once mentions Kathleen Kane — but that clearly defines her time in office as his reason for running.

“The election will come down to this: Who can lead the office with integrity, who has the judgment and executive experience to clean up a mess, and who has a track record of fighting for our collective values,” Shapiro writes to supporters.

The “mess” Shapiro refers to is clearly the scandal surrounding Kane. On the same day that a Pennsylvania Senate committee holds a hearing to decide whether to recommend her ouster from the office, Shapiro will point to a history of reform — both in Harrisburg, where he served in the Pennsylvania House, and in Montgomery County, where he is the Commission Chairman — as the rationale for his candidacy.

“This is a unique time as it relates to the office of attorney general,” he observed Monday night in an interview with Philly Mag as news of his impending announcement emerged.

Indeed, Kane opens 2016 suspended from the practice of law while she awaits trial on charges she illegally leaked secret grand jury information to embarrass a political rival. She’s responded by blowing the lid off of “Porngate,” a scandal that revealed that dozens of state officials — in the judicial branch and the attorney general’s office — used their state emails to trade messages containing pornography and racist misogynist jokes. That scandal, in turn, has led to the retirement of one Pennsylvania Supreme Court justice, the suspension of another, and has reached all the way to the Philadelphia district attorney’s office.

Kane says she’s running for re-election, but her time in office has both exposed and — to many — exemplified deep and widespread rot in state government. That makes her ripe from for a primary challenge from Shapiro, a fellow Democrat.

“The most pressing challenge we face today in our justice system is a crisis of confidence, doubts about the administration of justice and the results that follow,” he writes in the announcement letter.

In both the letter and in conversation with Philly Mag, Shapiro emphasized his record of reform, first documented in the magazine in 2007: In the Pennsylvania House, Shapiro voted against the late-night pay raise the legislators voted to themselves, while spearheading efforts to expand the state’s Open Records Law and to end legislative perks like taxpayer-funded car leases.

Similarly, his arrival on the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners signaled a shakeup in that county’s government. (Shapiro’s predecessor as commission chairman, Jim Matthews, was charged with lying to a grand jury, though his record was later expunged.) Shapiro inherited a $10 million deficit that, by 2014, had become a $1.6 million surplus.

“We run an honest, ethical government now,” Shapiro said Monday night. “I’m confident in my abilities to lead, and to clean up the mess.”

Of course, the attorney general’s office has responsibilities beyond fixing its own scandals. To that end, Shapiro said he would use the office to make renewed efforts at consumer protection, protect seniors, ensure that the state’s oil and gas drillers leave behind clean drinking water for their neighbors, and lead the fight to keep illegal guns out of criminal hands.

“The attorney general has a unique opportunity to be the strongest, loudest voice in that process,” Shapiro said of gun efforts.

Shapiro has no background in criminal law; he’s spent the last decade at Philadelphia’s Stradley Ronon law firm working in corporate, real estate and compliance law — and was at Ballard Spahr before that. He earned his law degree from Georgetown University.

He said he’s not concerned that voters will penalize him for a lack of criminal law experience, believing that his resumé as an executive will prove attractive. “I think what Pennsylvanians are looking for is someone with my background.”

Other Dems in the race include Allegheny County D.A. Stephen Zappala, Northampton D.A. John Morganelli, prosecutor Jack Stollsteimer and attorney Dave Fawcett.

Follow @JoelMMathis on Twitter.