While the media may be focusing most heavily on the presidential race this November, student voters at Ursinus will have quite a few more choices to make. One of those votes will be for attorney general. The attorney general is the chief law enforcement officer for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and is in charge of prosecuting cases on behalf of the commonwealth. The office has been a hotbed of controversy over the past few years, mostly stemming from scandals surrounding former Attorney General Kathleen Kane. Kane was recently indicted for perjury and leaking grand jury information to a reporter, for which she was removed from office and sentenced this week to serve 10 to 23 months in prison. Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, is hoping to take over and clean up the office. He’s running against Republican State Senator John Rafferty, who represents Collegeville in the Pennsylvania Senate, in one of the most closely watched down ballot races in the country. The Grizzly spoke with Shapiro about the race and how the Attorney General’s office affects the lives of college students every day.
Q: One thing that is important to college students in 2016 is sexual assault. I’ve noticed that in previous interviews and on your website you speak a lot about this issue, and was wondering if you could expand on your plan to reduce sexual assault, prevent it, and stand with survivors of it.
A: As Attorney General, I would be very focused on rooting out incidents of campus sexual assault, creating a culture of consent, and getting rid of the culture of cover up that exists in too many colleges and universities across Pennsylvania today. I’m not in any way suggesting that that’s the case at Ursinus, but just in general, I think we need to be vigilant about that. At the same time, we have got to protect survivors and victims of campus sexual assault.
Q: Can you speak a little bit more about what a “culture of consent” means to you and how you plan to create that as Attorney General?
A: I think it’s really important that as Attorney General, we use our education and outreach division to get on college campuses and make sure that students understand that no means no, that administrators understand that when something has been reported that they have a responsibility to act and to have policies and procedures in place that govern how they act, and that they report those findings to the authorities. And that there be a partnership with the Attorney General’s office
as well as with District Attorneys offices across Pennsylvania to prosecute those that assault other college students.
Q: Another issue that is particularly relevant to college students is student debt and the quality of education. I saw that you mentioned that in the Pennsylvania constitution there is a right to an education, and that you planned on cracking down on predatory lending schemes in Pennsylvania. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit more about your course of action on that.
A: Sure. There is a constitutional right that exists in Pennsylvania for all students to have a thorough and efficient education system. I think for too many students in certain ZIP codes in Pennsylvania—both urban ZIP codes and rural ZIP codes—that constitutional right is not realized. It’ll be my job to protect people’s rights, and I will use the full legal authority of my office to do so when it comes to meeting their constitutional right to a thorough and efficient education system.
Overall, I’ve talked about wanting to be the people’s Attorney General … There has been an uptick in scams against college students and recent graduates where these companies come in and pretend to want to help you with your student loans, but really what they do is they try trick you into or scam you into paying more for your student loans or paying more on paying down your debt. These often go unreported by students because they don’t have a place to report it, and we are going to have a specific focus within our office dealing with these kind of scams against college students, so they will have a place to report it and we can go out and prosecute those who scam our college students, or scam recent graduates, or scam our seniors.
Q: What initially drew you to a life of public service, and what would you say to a college student who would want to take route?
A: Truth is, it started for me back in college. I got turned on to student government and political science; I got elected student body president when I was a freshman. From there I got very interested in serving in government. My first job out of college was working on Capitol Hill. I was the youngest Chief of Staff on Capitol Hill at the age of 23, and I put myself through Georgetown Law at night while I was serving as Chief of Staff. Then, at 29 I came home and ran for the State House of Representatives and served there for seven years before being the first Democrat elected chairman of the County Commissioners in Montgomery County, where Ursinus is.
Q: Public trust in Pennsylvania’s Attorney General office is historically low right now, and I was wondering how you plan to raise public trust of the office, and why you think that you’re the right person to take over at this pivotal moment in the office’s history.
A: You need someone who has been a leader on ethics and integrity issues and who has demonstrated that they could conduct themselves with ethics and integrity throughout their career, and that’s something I’m known for. You also need a plan in order to make the office of Attorney General work again and function again with integrity. The first thing I put out in this campaign, and you can find it on my website, was an integrity agenda, where we are going to require every member of the office to sign a code of conduct. Every member should be required to go to mandatory ethics training. We’re going to ban all gifts. We’re going to be far more open and transparent with our spending. We’re going to hire a chief diversity officer. And these are the kinds of things that are going to be needed to change the culture of the office and make it work again.