W.Pa. Rep. Austin Davis to enter Pa. Lt. Gov race with Dem Josh Shapiro’s backing

‘I’m humbled and excited to have the support of so many of my colleagues from across the Commonwealth,’ Davis said

By: - December 14, 2021 3:05 pm

State Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny (Photo via The Pittsburgh Current/Twitter)

*This story was updated at 3:33 p.m. 12/14/21 with a statement from state Rep. Brian Sims, D-Philadelphia, and additional information on how the lieutenant governor is chosen.

Josh Shapiro is expected to tap a western Pennsylvania state representative to be his running mate in 2022.

Shapiro, the state’s attorney general and, so far, the Democrats’ only candidate for governor in 2022, will publicly endorse state Rep. Austin Davis, D-Allegheny, as his pick for lieutenant governor in the coming weeks, Democratic sources told the Capital-Star on Tuesday.

The 32-year-old Davis, first elected in a 2018 special election, represents a diverse district in the Monongahela Valley southeast of Pittsburgh, including both majority Black boroughs and white working class enclaves.

Davis has previously told the Capital-Star he was interested in running for the position, arguing he’d be a good governing partner and that Pennsylvania Democrats “can no longer have tickets of two white men.”

In a statement, Davis confirmed his entrance.

“I’m humbled and excited to have the support of so many of my colleagues from across the Commonwealth,” Davis said.

However, the pick is not the end of the matter. Under state law, the lieutenant governor runs in a separate primary election, although the eventual nominees run as a ticket in the November general election.

The Democratic establishment is behind Josh Shapiro for governor. Will Pa. follow?

In fact, one of Davis’s House Democratic colleagues, state Rep. Brian Sims, of Philadelphia, is already in the race.

First elected in 2012, Sims, a lawyer, was the first openly gay person elected to the General Assembly. He’s been a vocal critic of the Republican majority, but has courted controversy, including in 2019 when he offered money to anyone who would identify three teenaged anti-abortion protestors outside a Philadelphia Planned Parenthood office.

Philly Rep. Brian Sims says he’ll seek Dem nod for Lt. Gov in 2022

Sims comes into the race with name recognition among parts of the Democratic base, a vast social media presence, and has already raised at least $285,000. 

In a statement, Sims noted his ongoing campaigning throughout the commonwealth, and argued he’d bring “experienced leadership” to the office “to fight for everything from voting rights and reproductive freedom, to better wages and better schools. ”

“My pledge to our voters is that I’ll continue to show up, support local Democrats, and always be their partner in the fight for a better Pennsylvania,” Sims said.

A third potential candidate, state Rep. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, told the Capital-Star that she was not running, and instead focused on running for reelection to the state House.

But along with Shapiro, Davis will also enter the race with the endorsement of the House Democratic leadership team, House Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, D-Philadelphia, told the Capital-Star on Tuesday.

In a statement, Shapiro welcomed Davis to the race, saying he “has a strong track record of fighting for the people of western Pennsylvania, and I’m excited that he’s taking steps toward running for lieutenant governor.”

Soon after announcing his candidacy, Shapiro told the Capital-Star he was looking for a “governing partner” in his running mate, and wanted “people in my administration who are going to bring different life experiences; who are going to challenge me; who are going to look different than me.”

A source close to the Shapiro campaign said that Shapiro wasn’t expected to make an endorsement until the new year.

Democratic stakeholder groups also have pushed for the ticket to reflect the growing, diverse reality of the state’s population, as well and represent all corners of the commonwealth. Shapiro is from Montgomery County in suburban Philadelphia.

Building a ticket that matches Pennsylvania’s diversity could pose challenge for Democrats in 2022

The lieutenant governor’s office has few official duties. The occupant presides over the state Senate — casting tie-breaking votes on procedural motions — chairs the state Board of Pardons, and replaces the governor if they die in office, resign, or are otherwise incapacitated.

Despite this slim portfolio of responsibilities, the position does come with a large bully pulpit, and can be a springboard for higher office, as shown by current Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for U.S. Senate in 2022.

But the separate primaries have often meant that the governor and lieutenant governor might head into office with an uneasy relationship.

Such was the case for Gov. Tom Wolf’s first term in office, when primary voters selected him and Philadelphia state Sen. Mike Stack as their candidates. 

Wolf and Stack did not get along, and Stack had attracted negative attention for abusing his state staff and running up big grocery bills on the taxpayer’s dime.

In the end, Wolf did not intervene when Stack faced a crowded primary in 2018. Fetterman emerged as the winner.

Just seven other states have lieutenant governor’s selected in separate primaries even though they run on a ticket in the general election.

Lawmakers have moved to change this through a constitutional amendment, which typically take about two years to pass. Efforts to do so in the General Assembly are ongoing, but do not appear to be on track to be implemented for the 2022 election.

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is the Capital-Star's House reporter. He previously covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter. You can reach him at 845-891-4306.

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