Op-Ed: The many unanswered questions for AG Josh Shapiro

Op-Ed by Gina Diorio. The following commentary originally appeared at Broad + Liberty.

Democrat Attorney General Josh Shapiro isn’t shy about his gubernatorial ambitions. Although he hasn’t formally announced his candidacy, he’s clearly running. And Gov. Tom Wolf has already endorsed Shapiro as his successor.

There’s a lot that Josh Shapiro says about himself—after all, he’s issued 993 press releases since taking office, or one every 1.67 days. But it’s what he doesn’t tell us that raises concerns.

Readers of the Scranton Times-Tribune saw a troubling headline on February 3, 2020: “Prosecution error decimates major drug case.” The case, “Operation Outfoxed,” was intended to take more than 40 drug dealers off the streets. Instead, nearly half the defendants, including the alleged ringleader, walked free in Luzerne County after Attorney General Shapiro’s office failed to properly seal wiretap evidence. How could this happen? Pennsylvanians deserve to know.

Across the state in Bedford County, former District Attorney Bill Higgins faced 62 years in prison and a $100,000 fine for trading lighter sentence recommendations for sexual favors from drug dealers. Instead, Attorney General Josh Shapiro made him “an offer he felt he couldn’t refuse.” Zero jail time and no additional felony counts filed against him.

At the time, the Associated Press reported that “it wasn’t immediately clear why the state’s top prosecutor offered him [Higgins] a deal that allows him to remain free. Shapiro’s office did not mention the terms of the plea agreement in a news release, nor did Shapiro mention it in a videotaped statement.” So, why the sweetheart deal? Pennsylvanians deserve to know.

Then there’s Shapiro’s taxpayer-funded trip to Aspen so he could join the liberal Aspen institute for a panel discussion on “what happens when the state and federal government don’t agree.”  The Lancaster Newspaper saidthat the trip “arguably is not a government function.” Yet, he billed taxpayers $3,400 for airfare and lodging for himself and an aide. Why were taxpayers forced to fund Shapiro’s jaunt to Aspen? Pennsylvanians deserve to know.

And in Montgomery County, many residents likely still remember the 2014 vote by then-County Commissioner Josh Shapiro to sell Parkhouse, a geriatric facility in Upper Providence, to Mid-Atlantic Health Care. The sale included about 200 acres of open land around the facility, and residents were concerned the land would be developed. At the time, Mid-Atlantic Founder and CEO Dr. Scott Rifkin said he had decided against developing it.

In Shapiro’s 2016 election bid, Rifkin, who had not donated to Shapiro previously, gave him more than $30,000 in contributions. Fast-forward seven years, and on January 18, 2021, Rifkin presented plans at an Upper Providence Board of Supervisors Meeting to develop some of the land around Parkhouse.

It’s little wonder that at the time of the sale, Upper Providence Township Supervisor Lisa Mossie said, “Regardless of the temporary deed restriction that has been added to the terms of the sale, at this point, it must never be forgotten that Josh Shapiro, Leslie Richards and Bruce Castor originally voted unanimously to sell open space to developers.”

As county commissioner, did Shapiro do anything to help ensure open land treasured by local residents would not be developed? Pennsylvanians deserve to know.

From bungling a major drug case, to cutting a questionable deal with a local district attorney, to taking a taxpayer-funded trip to Aspen, to voting to sell open land that’s now at risk of development, it’s clear that Shaprio has a lot to answer for before Pennsylvanians should consider him as a potential governor. And these topics don’t even begin to address a host of additional questions still unanswered, ranging from the ongoing opioid crisis to skyrocketing gun violence in Philadelphia.

It’s a good thing we still have more than 15 months before the 2022 gubernatorial elections, because it may just take that long for Josh Shapiro to give Pennsylvanians the answers they deserve.

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Gina Diorio is the Public Affairs Director at Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs, an independent, non-partisan, 501(c)(6) membership organization dedicated to improving the economic environment and educational opportunities in Pennsylvania. www.thecommonwealthpartners.com.