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New Pa. Gov. Josh Shapiro takes office and vows to seek a better state: ‘Your problems have become my priorities’

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New Gov. Josh Shapiro was sworn in Tuesday with his wife and children beside him and the green dome of the Capitol above him, and part of his first message to Pennsylvanians was “your problems have become my priorities.”

The former state House member, Montgomery County commissioner and attorney general became the 48th governor about two hours after his running mate, Austin Davis, was sworn in as the state’s first Black lieutenant governor.

Shapiro, a Democrat, chose freedom as a main theme as he described his mindset in trying to improve the state.

One definition for “real freedom” is “where everyone gets a shot and no one is left behind,” Shapiro said, and he credited the stories of everyday people with giving him tremendous motivation.

“Your problems have become my priorities,” Shapiro said. “Your stories and your courage stay with me.”

Lehigh Valley Democrats reacted with enthusiasm.

Shapiro’s repeated references to inclusivity struck a chord with Allentown Mayor Matt Tuerk.

“As a majority Latino city, we are looking for leaders who see us,” Tuerk said, and he praised Shapiro’s “understanding of urban areas.”

Allentown Democratic Rep. Peter Schweyer said Shapiro had “a very clear vision of the commonwealth moving forward.”

Fellow Democratic Rep. Mike Schlossberg, of South Whitehall Township, said he liked the application of the message of freedom to people seeking the best education possible, to individuals seeking fulfilling jobs, and to businesses seeking opportunities.

Democratic Rep. Josh Siegel of Allentown said the talented new governor could provide a pivot point away from “tribal warfare” among politicians. Newly elected Sen. Nick Miller of Allentown, another Democrat, said Shapiro showed “energy and motivation.”

Republican Sen. Jarrett Coleman of Upper Macungie Township, who took office two weeks ago, said the “devil is in the details” for Shapiro.

“I am eager, as are many constituents of my district, to learn if Gov. Shapiro will make good on his campaign promises,” Coleman said. “I look forward to seeing Gov. Shapiro advance school choice in Pennsylvania, delivering power to parents, and delivering on his promises.”

Shapiro was sworn in by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Todd under a cloudy sky, with several former governors, two U.S. senators, numerous state lawmakers and special guests in a seating area close to the podium.

Pennsylvanians, he said, want good schools, safe communities, an economy that gives people a chance and uplifts them, and a stance against extremism.

Citing the 150-year journey taken to win the right to vote for women and the many years it took to abolish slavery, Shapiro called the U.S. democracy “a constant work in progress.” He pointed to William Penn’s founding of the then-province of Pennsylvania on the concept of religious tolerance, and indicated the same tolerance must be kept at the forefront now.

“As a people, we are committed to progress,” Shapiro said.

Shapiro’s first words after he was sworn in included expressions of love for his wife and children. He told his wife, Lori, “I love you, baby.”

He called his Cabinet — led by Lehigh Valley native Chief of Staff Dana Fritz — the “most well-qualified and diverse set of public servants in our history.”

Lt. Gov. Davis

Davis is the son of a McKeesport hairdresser and a bus driver who grew up in the Mon Valley in western Pennsylvania and eventually was elected to the state House of Representatives.

After he took the oath as the state’s first Black lieutenant governor, Davis told the Senate, “The American dream is alive and well in Pennsylvania.”

He said his grandparents — who included a steelworker and a railroad foreman who moved to the state from the Jim Crow-era South — would not in their “wildest dreams” have believed their grandson would one day hold the second-highest office in the state.

The oath of office for Davis was administered by Allegheny Judge Kim Berkeley Clark, who noted that he was a model for “all the little boys and girls in Pennsylvania just like you” and urged him to “just be humble.”

Clark told Davis that everyone present got to where they are with the help of others.

Davis studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh. He got a job in government as senior adviser to the Allegheny County executive, and then in 2018 mounted a successful run for the House from the 35th District.

During his four years in the House, he was vice chair of the House Democratic Policy Committee and served on a number of committees, including Appropriations, Consumer Affairs, Insurance and Transportation.

The Shapiro-Davis administration takes control of the executive branch of state government as the legislative branch faces an unprecedented challenge.

The state House has been rendered inactive by partisan disagreements since a new speaker, Democratic Rep. Mark Rozzi of Berks County, was sworn in Jan. 3.

The Senate, on the other hand, has held results-producing debate and voting sessions.

Without the House functioning, progress on potential laws of all types is slowed. An illustration of that fact came late Friday, when the Senate canceled sessions during the weeks of Jan. 23 and Jan. 30 in part because the House had not organized itself.

Rozzi has appointed a small bipartisan work group, including Schweyer, to seek agreements between the clashing political parties, which have been unable to agree on rules for conducting business in the chamber. The group met Tuesday for the first time.

Morning 첥Ƶ Capitol correspondent Ford Turner can be reached at fturner@mcall.com.

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