Shapiro breaks with Dems on COVID policies in Pa. gov race

Aug 29, 2022, 12:41 AM | Updated: 6:50 pm
FILE - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, ...

FILE - Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro speaks during a news conference in Philadelphia, Dec. 14, 2021. As attorney general, Shapiro went to court repeatedly to defend Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf's administration against legal challenges to his pandemic-era mandates and shutdowns. Now, as he's running to succeed Wolf as governor, Shapiro says he is against some of the same COVID-19 containment measures that his fellow Democrat used to help manage the nation's worst pandemic in over a century.  (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)

HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — As attorney general, Josh Shapiro went to court repeatedly to defend Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration against legal challenges to his pandemic-era mandates and shutdowns.

Now, as he’s running to succeed Wolf as governor, Shapiro says he is against some of the same COVID-19 containment measures that his fellow Democrat used to help manage the nation’s worst pandemic in over a century.

On 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 tack to the middle against Mastriano, who even some top Republicans say is too far to the right to win the November general election.

“This is an area where I think folks got it wrong,” Shapiro said of school and business shutdowns. On mask and vaccine mandates, Shapiro said he opposed them and instead talked about a need to “educate and empower” the public, business owners, school leaders and others to protect themselves and others.

“And to me, that’s the approach 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 core measures that Democratic governors — and some Republican governors — used to contain COVID-19.

And Shapiro is doing it as incumbent Democratic governors in other presidential battleground states, such as Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers and Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, are defending their records as they run for reelection this year.

It follows Republican Glenn Youngkin’s victory last year in the Virginia governor’s race as he differentiated himself from his Democratic opponent by pledging to end vaccine and mask mandates and vowing to keep schools open.

Shapiro, the state’s two-term elected attorney general, is also running against decades of precedent: If he wins, he would be the first governor to succeed a two-term governor of the same party in Pennsylvania.

Since the pandemic began, Wolf has battled Pennsylvania’s Republican-controlled Legislature over his orders requiring masks and shutdowns 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 Pennsylvania’s prisons and care facilities to get vaccinated or take weekly tests for the virus. President Joe Biden ordered farther-reaching vaccine mandates, including one on private companies blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court.

Shapiro said that, as attorney general, his office is required to defend the state in court, and it did so numerous times in state and federal court during the pandemic.

In one filing in 2020, Shapiro’s office wrote that a federal judge’s decision to block Wolf’s orders shutting down non-life-sustaining businesses and putting size limits on gatherings “will undoubtedly cost lives.”

In another last fall, the office argued that Wolf’s school mask mandate was necessary “to protect the health and lives of Pennsylvania’s school children and their families, and to prevent schools in the Commonwealth from becoming COVID-19 super-spreader sites.”

A mainstay of Mastriano’s stump speeches is castigating Shapiro’s defense of Wolf’s policies and arguing that a Shapiro governorship would be the equivalent of a third term for Wolf.

“When the shutdown happened, Josh Shapiro sued to keep the businesses shut down,” Mastriano said on a conservative online broadcast show Thursday. “When the shutdown happened, he kept the kids masked up in a lawsuit.”

At a rally in Lancaster last Wednesday, Mastriano cast the November election as a choice between “tyranny and freedom” and said he was appalled that anyone would abide 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 that he didn’t require vaccines or masks in his offices, although he said that he tried to educate his workforce and foster an understanding culture.

He himself appeared careful about mask-wearing in public during the pandemic and said he tried to make an example of himself by getting the vaccine to encourage others to do so.

Mastriano, a retired Army colonel who became a 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 has called Mastriano a “science denier” who “put lives in danger throughout the pandemic by openly downplaying the crisis and opposing vaccines and other mitigation efforts.”

COVID-19 policies aren’t the first time Shapiro has broken with Wolf.

Since he announced that he was running for governor, Shapiro has opposed Wolf’s key climate change and transportation funding pursuits.

Last year, for instance, Shapiro came out in opposition to the centerpiece of Wolf’s plan to fight climate change — charging power plants for planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions — amid the strong and sustained pushback it received from building trades unions and the business sector.

Shapiro has said he worries that Wolf’s plan will hurt the state’s energy industry, drive up electric prices and do little to curtail greenhouse gases.

The plan is currently held up in court, but it rates prominently in stump speeches by Mastriano, who says he’d put a stop to it on his first day in office.

AP-NORC polls in 2021 and earlier this year have shown more approval than disapproval among U.S. adults for various kinds of mask mandates or vaccine mandates, but it also shows that concern over getting infected has fallen over time as treatments improve and more people get vaccinated.

Shapiro is not completely distancing himself from Wolf and Biden. He appeared recently with Wolf at a news conference on abortion rights and will appear with Biden twice in the coming days.

But a little distance may be helpful if the midterm elections end up being a referendum on the party in power.

“Let’s face it, this 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 looks to be favorable to Republicans, I don’t think it hurts to create distance from a Democratic officeholder,” said Berwood Yost, a pollster and director of the Center for Opinion Research at Franklin & Marshall College.


Associated Press writer Hannah Fingerhut in Washington contributed to this report. Follow Marc Levy on Twitter at


Follow AP for full coverage of the midterms at and on Twitter,

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


Britain's Prime Minister Liz Truss arrives to attend the Conservative Party conference at the ICC, ...
Associated Press

UK’s Truss sticks by economic plan as her party worries

LONDON (AP) — British Prime Minister Liz Truss said Sunday that she could have done a better job “laying the ground” for her package of unfunded tax cuts, but insisted she would push on with an economic plan that has caused turmoil on financial markets and weakened the country’s public finances. Truss acknowledged that the […]
1 day ago
Latvian Prime Minister and Head of board of leading political party Jauna Vienotiba (New Unity) Kri...
Associated Press

Latvian premier’s party emerges on top in general election

HELSINKI (AP) — Prime Minister Krisjanis Karins’ ruling center-right party won the most votes in Latvia’s general election, centrist parties were runners-up and pro-Moscow parties crashed in a vote that was shaped by neighboring Russia’s war in Ukraine and divisions among the Baltic country’s sizable ethnic Russian minority. With more than 97% of the votes […]
1 day ago
Ukrainian servicemen drive a tank on the way to Siversk, Donetsk region, Ukraine, Saturday, Oct. 1,...
Associated Press

Ukraine presses counteroffensive after Russian setback

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russia attacked the Ukrainian president’s hometown with suicide drones on Sunday, and Ukraine pushed ahead with its counteroffensive after taking back control of a strategic eastern city. Russia’s loss of Lyman, which it had been using as a transport and logistics hub, is a new blow to the Kremlin as it […]
1 day ago
Police cars wrecked in soccer riots are seen on the pitch at Kanjuruhan Stadium in Malang, East Jav...
Associated Press

EXPLAINER: What’s behind Indonesia’s deadly soccer match?

JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) — Violence and a deadly stampede that erupted following a domestic league soccer match Saturday night marked another tragedy in Indonesian football. Here’s a look at how the chaos occurred and what is being done to prevent future incidents. ___ HOW DID THE CHAOS OCCUR? Chaos broke out after Persebaya Surabaya defeated […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Military: Gunmen kill Pakistani UN peacekeeper in east Congo

ISLAMABAD (AP) — A Pakistani soldier serving as a U.N. peacekeeper in the Democratic Republic of Congo was killed in a militant attack in the country’s volatile east, the military said. A group of six militants reached the United Nations’ permanent operation base in the district of Minembwe, ostensibly to surrender their weapons as part […]
1 day ago
Buddhist monks perform rituals during the funeral of famed American extreme skier Hilaree Nelson in...
Associated Press

Famed US extreme skier gets traditional Nepalese funeral

KATHMANDU, Nepal (AP) — A famed extreme skier from the United States who was killed after falling from one of the world’s tallest mountains was on Sunday given a traditional funeral at a Sherpa cremation ground as Buddhist monks officiated over a ceremony attended by family, friends and government officials. Hilaree Nelson, 49, fell off […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Work at Zum Services...

Seattle Public Schools announces three-year contract with Zum

Seattle Public Schools just announced a three-year contract with a brand-new company to the Pacific Northwest to assist with their student transportation: Zum.
Swedish Cyberknife 900x506...

June is Men’s Health Month: Here’s Why It’s Important To Speak About Your Health

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, men in the United States, on average, die five years earlier than women.

Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]
Shapiro breaks with Dems on COVID policies in Pa. gov race