Taking different tacks on issues
Race for AG pits Rafferty against Shapiro
The race for Pennsylvania attorney general pits a 43-yearold lawyer from Montgomery County who has raised $4.9 million for his campaign against a 63-year-old lawyer from Montgomery County who has raised $1.3 million.
Both have experience in the Pennsylvania General Assembly, both agree on many of the issues that need to be addressed, both oppose the use of private prisons and both have even served on the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and
Delinquency, of which one, Josh Shapiro, is currently the chairman.
The two don’t agree, obviously, on which one is best suited to addressing those issues, nor on the manner in which each issue needs to be addressed.
John Rafferty, 63, the Republican candidate, is a state senator for the 44th District, which includes portions of Montgomery, Chester and Berks counties. He graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and his law degree is from Temple University.
Shapiro, 43, the Democratic candidate, is the chairman of the Montgomery County Commissioners. He graduated from the University of Rochester and his law degree is from Georgetown University.
He served four two-year terms in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.
Previously, Digital First Media reported that Shapiro has out-fund-raised Rafferty by a margin of nearly 4 to 1, at least partly with the help of a $250,000 donation
the parking lot of Pennsylvania guns shows” and believes background checks should be expanded to include private sales of long guns.
Shapiro has also pledged to “review” reciprocity agreements with other states, which sometimes allow those who cannot obtain concealed carry permits in Pennsylvania to obtain them from other states with fewer restrictions — often called “the Florida loophole.”
Rafferty, who has an “A” rating from the NRA, said his approach to illegal guns is to “get them out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them.”
Rafferty said he does not see the need for any additional gun control laws, although he touts his leadership in the passage of a 2012 law increasing penalties for straw purchasers, enacted after a weapon bought that way killed Plymouth police Officer Bradley Fox, a New Hanover resident.
If elected, Rafferty said he would re-initiate the joint firearms task force, which enjoyed success in Philadelphia under former Attorney General Tom Corbett and former Philadelphia District Attorney
Rafferty said he believes part of Kane’s problem was that she was considered a rising political star, and it distracted her from doing the job.
He suggested Shapiro would suffer from the same distraction.
“Everyone was talking about her like she would be the next governor or the next senator,” Rafferty said. “When you have your eyes on the governor’s mansion or a Senate seat, you only have one eye on your office and you make decisions based on what’s good for your political career. I will keep the politics out of the attorney’s general’s office.”
On his website, Rafferty has pledged that he will not seek higher office.
“I’m not looking to run for governor,” Rafferty said.
Shapiro, whose name has been mentioned in political circles as a rising star, demurred when asked if he is planning to seek higher office, responding, “I am running for attorney general.”
Like Rafferty, Shapiro has approached the fallout from Kane’s conviction and resignation from office by pledging to implement stricter ethics standards. what he calls an “integrity agenda,” which includes a gift ban, strengthening the state ethics commission, increasing penalties for public corruption and making gifts and campaign donations available online on a “real time” basis.
Rafferty said he would implement an ethics code based on the one used by the U.S. Dept. of Justice and undertake a complete departmental review.
Protecting the vulnerable
Both candidates have highlighted a need for the next attorney general to improve consumer protections, combatting things like the suddenly increased cost of EpiPens and to protect the most vulnerable.
Shapiro highlighted plans for increasing protections for seniors and pledged to increase prosecutions for phone and mail scams.
“Scams cost Pennsylvania
and although it is typically reported to local police, they don’t have the jurisdiction they need,” he said. He proposes a special division to root out scams against seniors.
In his interview, Rafferty also chose to highlight a new division he wants to form to protect vulnerable citizens — children.
He said there was a focus on child predators under Corbett and during Kane’s first year and he would like to see it revived.
In particular, Rafferty said, he wants to form a “Megan’s Law Strike Force” that tracks down what he suspects are “hundreds, if not thousands” of registered sex offenders who no longer live at the address where they originally registered.
Further, Rafferty has proposed a school safety task force aimed at providing more comprehensive disaster training for schools, including how to spot and react to behavior of potential active shooters in schools.
Rafferty has further proposed that new legislation to better regulate animal operations and punish animal abuse.
Shapiro and Rafferty also both highlighted the opioid epidemic sweeping the nation and Pennsylvania alike as something with which the next attorney general must contend.
“I was at an event in Cumberland County where they were emptying the expired medicine drop boxes,” said Shapiro. “They filled the entire truck and fully 20 percent of the meds there were opioids.”
Rafferty has proposed a “heroin strike force” coordinating the efforts of district attorneys and state and local intelligence units so that local forces “go after the street-level dealers and we will go after the mid-level and high-level dealers.”
He will also push for maximum jail time, but recognizes the necessity of involving the medical community and courts as well.
“I would like to use an approach similar to the one Judge Seamus McCaffery used with veterans courts, getting nonviolent offenders transferred to a treatment facility,” said Rafferty. “And we need to educate pharmacies and doctors
to stop open-ended prescriptions.”
Both Shapiro and Rafferty have highlighted the need to curb “doctor-shopping,” by which an addict gets an opioid prescription from one doctor, and then goes to another a short time later to obtain another.
Shapiro said a statewide doctor database would help, as well as providing the opioid-blocking drug, naloxone, to all first responders to help prevent overdoses.
He too supports diverting nonviolent drug offenders into treatment and not into the criminal justice system. He cites Montgomery County’s “drug courts” as a successful model that could be put into place around the state.
“We are not going to arrest our way out of the opioid crisis,” Shapiro said.
Reforming criminal justice
Shapiro has also released a white paper on what he sees as the need to reform Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system in a comprehensive way.
He proposed reforms include money for defense attorneys for the indigent, noting Pennsylvania is the only state in the nation that does not provide for this.
With the highest prison population in the northeast, Shapiro has also recommended reforming pretrial detention, sentencing and parole recommendations “to ensure that limited law enforcement resources are spent on the most serious offenders.”
Shapiro has also proposed broadening the ability for district attorney’s to refer cases in which police abuse is charged to the attorney general’s office.
Updating databases and eliminating the backlog of 1,800 rape kits are also part of his proposals — all of which are aimed at making sure the $4 billion Pennsylvania spends annually on corrections — more than on higher education, are put to the best use.
“We need a smart-oncrime approach that targets resources to where they are needed most, emphasizes treatment for the non-violent and breaks the cycle of recidivism,” Shapiro said in an Oct. 4 press release announcing the proposal.
John C. Rafferty Jr.