Invoking the history of Pennsylvania, its founder William Penn, and various chapters of its storied past and present, Democrat Josh Shapiro was inaugurated Tuesday as the state’s 48th Governor.
Amid cold, overcast surroundings, the 49-year-old former attorney general placed his hand on three Jewish Bibles and took the oath of office from Chief Justice Debra Todd.
The three Bibles are of special significance to Shapiro, who is Pennsylvania’s third Jewish governor. One was a family bible; one was from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers, including several Holocaust survivors, were killed in 2018 by a gunman in the deadliest antisemitic attack on U.S. soil; and one was U.S. Army-issued and brought into battle on D-Day, June 6, 1944, by Philadelphia’s Herman Hershman, a Purple Heart recipient.
“Along the winding road that led to this moment,” Shapiro began, “I’ve been grounded in my faith and family.”
Shapiro’s swearing-in ceremony on the steps of the state Capitol was one of two historic ceremonies taking place Tuesday in Harrisburg. Austin Davis was sworn in the state’s Senate chamber as Pennsylvania’s first Black lieutenant governor, and at age 33, is the country’s youngest lieutenant governor.
Davis said his swearing-in sends a message to young people in Pennsylvania, particularly young people of color, that the Keystone State is a place where everyone is welcomed and can succeed.
“I say to all the young people watching right now, who are worried and unsure about their future – that the American Dream is alive and well in Pennsylvania,” Davis said. “That no matter how you grew up, no matter where you come from, or what you look like – this Commonwealth will always be a place where you can create your own destiny.”
Shapiro spoke of destiny as well. Acknowledging that he is “entrusted with this awesome responsibility,” he said he realizes “it is just for a moment in the long history of our Commonwealth” and that he is the “next link in the chain of progress.”
Noting the presence of former Pennsylvania Governors Tom Wolf, Tom Ridge, Mark Schweiker, and Tom Corbett, Shapiro thanked his predecessors, particularly his immediate predecessor, Wolf.
“Thanks to his leadership,” Shapiro said, “we now find ourselves in the strongest financial shape in the history of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, allowing us to make critical investments for tomorrow.”
Shapiro emphasized that the presence of the former governor’s “formally celebrates the peaceful transfer of power.”
His statement was one of several pointed references he made to political extremism and the Jan. 6 insurrection.
“Here in Pennsylvania, we didn’t allow the extremists who peddle lies drown out the truth,” he said. “We showed that our system works and that our elections are free and fair, safe and secure.”
Shapiro’s speech lasted approximately 45 minutes and covered a wide range of subjects, including abortion, diversity, education, environment, extremism, faith, family, gun violence, public safety, and religion. Staying away from specificity, Shapiro spoke largely in broad terms. His speech was aimed at unifying a Pennsylvania government divided and attempted to resonate not only with his supporters but also with those whose votes he failed to get.
Having the reputation as a consensus builder, Shapiro is expected to put together one of the most diverse cabinets in Pennsylvania history. Despite the divided government in Harrisburg, Democrat and Republican leaders have spoken of having common ground when it comes to investing in education, investing in workforce development, and economic development.
“I set out to build a Cabinet and senior team that looks like Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said, “and reflects the people and the communities that I just took an oath to serve and protect.”
Shapiro’s inaugural speech often had the tone of the type of rallying cry heard on campaign trails. It also mirrored in some respects the lyrical oratory of former Democratic presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama. Shapiro is seen by many as a possible presidential prospect.
Shapiro concluded his address by stating, “And so, with my faith firmly rooted in we the people of Pennsylvania, with my heart open to others and my eyes fixed ahead, I am prepared to do my part to move our Commonwealth forward.”
Congratulations on Shapiro’s swearing-in came from several fronts. Republican Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said in a statement that as a candidate, Shapiro “offered many policy proposals that provided a path to bipartisan accomplishment and real progress for shared goals. As we look ahead, it is our hope that Gov. Shapiro governs under that same spirit and with a true willingness to find common ground.”
Bill Johnston-Walsh, state president of AARP Pennsylvania, also congratulated Shapiro and Davis. He added that AARP Pennsylvania applauds the commitment to public service shown by Shapiro and Davis and the message of inclusivity that’s been the essence of the Shapiro-Davis Transition Team, aligning as it does with AARP’s mission to lead positive social change and to find ways to improve the lives of Pennsylvania’s 50 and older population.
“Recognizing that every Pennsylvanian deserves access to quality, affordable health care and home and community based-services when needed,” Johnston-Walsh said, “we look forward to working with the Shapiro Administration and the General Assembly to promote policies that guarantee residents throughout the Commonwealth can live and age healthy and well with the dignity and respect they deserve.”
National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) State Director Greg Moreland urged the Shapiro-Davis Administration and legislators to keep small businesses’ interests in mind.
“Small business is the backbone of Pennsylvania’s economy, anchoring Main Streets across the state and creating a majority of all net new jobs,” Moreland said. “There is much work to be done to ensure small businesses in Pennsylvania can thrive.
“NFIB stands ready to work with Governor Josh Shapiro, his cabinet members, and the Senate and House to adopt policies that help improve the business environment for small businesses in Pennsylvania.”