Left: Montgomery County commissioner Josh Shapiro. Right: State Sen. John Rafferty.

Former Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen Kane was taken out of a courtroom Monday in handcuffs standing as a convicted felon and a symbol of the Office of the Attorney General that’s been left in ruin.

Two longtime Pennsylvania politicians are vying for the opportunity to clean it up.

State Sen. John Rafferty, a Republican, and Montgomery County Commissioner Josh Shapiro, a Democrat, want to take over an office that’s seen three leaders in the last three months and has gone through a transformational several years under Kane. Here’s what to know about the race for attorney general, also known as Pennsylvania’s third major political race:

Meet John Rafferty

Attorney General candidate John Rafferty
Attorney General candidate John Rafferty Credit: www.raffertyforag.com

Since 2003, Rafferty has served as a Republican state senator representing parts of Berks, Chester and Montgomery counties. He’s the chairman of the Senate transportation committee and touts his work on heading up a large, $2.3 billion statewide transportation package that passed in 2013.

Prior to working as a state senator, Rafferty was an attorney and, for three years from 1988 to 1991, was a deputy attorney general. While there, he worked in the criminal law division and prosecuted Medicaid fraud.

Throughout the campaign, Rafferty has pushed his plan to re-establish public trust in the Office of the Attorney General following Kane’s transgression. The state senator has gone so far as to post on his website a “no politics” pledge, saying that if he’s elected, he won’t seek higher office in the future.

Meet Josh Shapiro

Montgomery County Comissioner Josh Shapiro speaking at the Manayunk Bridge Trail groundbreaking in October 2014.
Montgomery County Comissioner Josh Shapiro speaking at the Manayunk Bridge Trail groundbreaking in October 2014. Credit: Montgomery County Planning Commission on Flickr

It would probably be disingenuous for Shapiro to make a similar promise. That’s because the Montgomery County commissioner is something of a rising star in the Democratic party in Pennsylvania.

After going to Georgetown Law and working for a number of years on Capitol Hill as a top aide to former Congressman Joseph Hoeffel, Shapiro won a seat as a state representative at age 30 in 2004. He served as a member of the legislature until 2012 when he became a Montgomery County commissioner. In March 2015, Gov. Tom Wolf named Shapiro the chairman of the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency.

Shapiro doesn’t have experience as a prosecutor, but Shapiro is a member of the Pennsylvania bar and works with Stradley Ronon, a Philadelphia law firm.

Status of the campaign

Unlike the other major races in Pennsylvania, there hasn’t been much public polling in the campaign for attorney general, so it’s difficult to say who’s leading at this point. What we do know about is money.

Shapiro, who has the support of top Democrats like Hillary Clinton and President Obama, has out-raised Rafferty in a four-to-one margin. Among his campaign’s top contributors is former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who kicked in a quarter of a million dollars to support Shapiro, specifically his platform on guns.

The most recent campaign finance reports show Shapiro raised almost $5 million while Rafferty raised about $1.3 million. Shapiro’s spent about $3.5 million and Rafferty has spent less than $700,000. For comparison’s sake, more than $100 million has been spent on the Pennsylvania Senate race so far. That money translates into ad space, giving Shapiro — who’s spent about $1.2 million on TV ads so far — a significant advantage.

Both candidates have endorsements from major groups, politicians and editorial boards. Rafferty is backed by numerous law enforcement groups, including the Pa. state troopers, the state FOP and Pa. State Corrections Officers. He’s also been endorsed by organizations like the Pa. Chamber of Commerce, the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation and Americans for Christian Traditions In Our Nation – Pennsylvania.

Rafferty was also endorsed by the National Rifle Association, a major campaign sticking point. Despite their support of him, the group has spent just $1,000 on his campaign.

Meanwhile, Shapiro has been endorsed by a laundry list of major political figures all the way up to and including the White House. He’s also been endorsed by traditionally left-leaning groups like Planned Parenthood, the League of Conservation Voters and a number of labor unions. The Philadelphia Inquirer and the Harrisburg Patriot-News have also endorsed Shapiro.

How to clean up the office

Ex-Attorney General Kathleen Kane sentencing
Former state Attorney General Kathleen Kane leaving the courthouse in Norristown. Credit: Pool photo: Dan Gleiter, Penn Live

Both candidates have outlined plans for how they’d change the inner workings of the Office of the Attorney General. In addition to Rafferty’s “no politics” pledge, the state senator plans to implement a full-blown ethics strategy that includes additional training for OAG employees and classes on human resources. He’s promised to increase transparency by holding more press conferences and by increasing travel between the office’s 20 locations across the state.

Shapiro’s touted his experience in cleaning up an office even larger than OAG — that in Montgomery County. In addition to promising to “re-focus” the office on its obligations to Pennsylvania citizens, Shapiro said emails pulled under Kane that show a pattern of racist and misogynistic behavior should be released. Shapiro said if those emails that were founded in relation to the statewide “Porngate” scandal aren’t released by the time he gets into office, he’ll release them.


Both candidates have outlined platforms on a variety of issues, but it’s guns that they couldn’t be farther apart on. While Rafferty has the support of the NRA, Shapiro has Bloomberg on his side. While Shapiro falls on the side of increased gun control, Rafferty has opposed measures like universal background checks.

Shapiro’s platform on guns includes measures like expanding the Gun Violence Task Force beyond Philadelphia, establishing new gun show procedures, increasing awareness of laws against straw purchases, expanding background checks to cover private sales of long guns and advocating for a lost/ stolen gun reporting requirement.

Rafferty’s plans are decidedly different. Last week, he was the only state senator who didn’t cast a vote at all when the body voted on a bill that makes it easier for the NRA to sue municipalities with gun law like Philadelphia’s. In the past, Rafferty supported such a measure.

However, he has touted his work in the passage of the Brad Fox law, which set mandatory minimum sentences for straw purchasers of guns, or people who buy guns because they have a clean record and then sell them to people who would normally be prohibited from purchasing a gun.

Opioid addiction

If guns are the central issue of the campaign, combating the state’s vast problem with opioid addiction is a close second. Both candidates agree its one of the, if not the most important issues facing the commonwealth that needs to be addressed by the incoming attorney general.

Rafferty plans to create a “Heroin Strike Force” that will provide training for law enforcement. He hopes to improve the coordination between different agencies, including federal agents, state police and local police forces. Rafferty would also expand treatment programs for those addicted heroin and opioids and coordinate a “public education campaign” to increase awareness about the dangers of heroin addiction.

Meanwhile, Shapiro’s promised to work toward arming every first responder with naloxone, an opioid overdose reversal drug. His platform includes the implementation of what he’s calling the Pennsylvania Drug Market Initiative, a “research-based initiative to combat the supply-side of the drug problem by closing illegal drug markets.” Shapiro has also said he’d work to reduce barriers to treatment for addicts, investigate the over-prescription of opioids and direct public outreach on heroin addiction.

To learn more

You can read more about their platforms on their respective websites: Here’s Shapiro’s and here’s Rafferty’s. Watch the two debate on 6ABC here:

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Anna Orso was a reporter/curator at Billy Penn from 2014 to 2017.