Shapiro breaks with Democrats over COVID policies in race for Pennsylvania government
As attorney general, Josh Shapiro has gone to court several times to defend Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf’s administration against legal challenges to his pandemic-era warrants and shutdowns.
Now, as he runs to succeed Wolf as governor, Shapiro says he’s against some of the same COVID-19 containment measures his fellow Democrat has used to help manage the country’s worst pandemic since. more than a century.
During the campaign trail in the presidential battleground state, Shapiro’s Republican opponent Doug Mastriano makes Wolf’s COVID-19 policies — and Shapiro’s defense of them in court — a source of derision.
But disavowing Wolf’s COVID-19 policies while facing headwinds for his party may be a politically painless way for Shapiro to veer into the middle against Mastriano, who even some top Republicans say he’s too right-wing. to win the November general election.
“That’s one area where I think people got it wrong,” Shapiro said of the school and business closures. Regarding mask and vaccine mandates, Shapiro said he opposes them and instead spoke of the need to “educate and empower” the public, business owners, school leaders and community leaders. others to protect themselves and others.
“And to me, that’s the approach that we need to take more broadly as a public, which is to educate, empower and respect people’s personal decisions and respect their personal freedom to make those choices,” Shapiro told the Associated Press in an interview.
It is unusual, if not unprecedented, for a Democrat to go against some of the fundamental measures that Democratic governors — and some Republican governors — were using to contain COVID-19.
And Shapiro is doing so as incumbent Democratic governors in other presidential battleground states, such as Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, defend their records as they seek re-election. This year.
This follows Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory last year in the race for governor of Virginia as he differentiated himself from his Democratic opponent by pledging to end vaccine and mask mandates and vowing to keep open schools.
Shapiro, the state’s two-term attorney general, is also running against decades of precedent: If he wins, he would be the first governor to succeed a two-term governor from the same party in Pennsylvania.
Since the start of the pandemic, Wolf has fought the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania legislature over its ordinances requiring masks and the closure of schools and businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed more than 46,000 people. in Pennsylvania.
Wolf also ordered about 25,000 employees of prisons and care facilities in Pennsylvania to get vaccinated or take weekly tests for the virus. President Joe Biden has ordered broader vaccination mandates, including one on private companies blocked by the US Supreme Court.
Shapiro said that as attorney general, his office is obligated to defend the state in court, and he has done so repeatedly in state and federal courts during the pandemic.
In a 2020 filing, Shapiro’s office wrote that a federal judge’s decision to block Wolf’s orders closing non-vital businesses and imposing size limits on gatherings “will undoubtedly cost lives.”
In another fall last fall, the bureau argued that Wolf’s school mask mandate was necessary “to protect the health and lives of Pennsylvania school children and their families, and to prevent Commonwealth schools from becoming COVID-19 super-spreading sites”.
A mainstay of Mastriano’s stump speeches is to castigate Shapiro’s defense of Wolf’s politics and argue that a governorship of Shapiro would amount to a third term for Wolf.
“When the shutdown happened, Josh Shapiro took legal action to keep the businesses closed,” Mastriano said on a conservative online broadcast on Thursday. “When the shutdown happened, he kept the kids masked in a lawsuit.”
At a rally in Lancaster last Wednesday, Mastriano framed the November election as a choice between “tyranny and freedom” and said he was appalled that anyone abiding by the mantra “Stay home, stay calm and stay safe”.
“Are you kidding me?” he said. “We’re Americans. We don’t do that.”
Shapiro said he does not need vaccines or masks in his offices, although he said he has tried to educate his staff and foster a culture of understanding.
He himself seemed cautious about wearing a mask in public during the pandemic and said he tried to set an example by getting vaccinated to encourage others to do so.
Mastriano, a retired army colonel who turned state senator in 2019, has opposed COVID-19 restrictions since the early weeks of the pandemic, leading anti-shutdown rallies, belittling masking and other containment measures and spreading misinformation online about the vaccine, which studies have shown is safe and effective.
Wolf’s office called Mastriano a “science denier” who “has put lives at risk throughout the pandemic by openly downplaying the crisis and opposing vaccines and other mitigation efforts.”
The COVID-19 policies aren’t the first time Shapiro has broken up with Wolf.
Since announcing he was running for governor, Shapiro has opposed Wolf’s core climate change and transportation funding goals.
Last year, for example, Shapiro opposed the centerpiece of Wolf’s plan to tackle climate change – charging power plants for planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions – amid the pushback strong and sustained that it has received from unions in the building trades and the business sector.
Shapiro said he fears Wolf’s plan will hurt the state’s energy industry, drive up electricity prices and do little to reduce greenhouse gases.
The plan is currently being held up in court, but features prominently in stump speeches by Mastriano, who says he would have ended it on his first day in office.
AP-NORC polls in 2021 and earlier this year showed more approval than disapproval among American adults for various types of mask mandates or vaccine mandates, but it also shows that concern about the infection has declined over time as treatments improve and more people get vaccinated.
Shapiro is not completely distancing himself from Wolf and Biden. He recently appeared with Wolf at an abortion rights press conference and will appear with Biden twice in the coming days.
But a little distance can be useful if the midterm elections end up being a referendum on the ruling party.
“Let’s face it, it would be a very rare thing to have a third term for the same party, so that and the fact that the general election this time around seems to be Republican-friendly, I don’t think it hurts. to create distance from a Democratic office holder,” said Berwood Yost, pollster and director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.
Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report.