Pa. row officers sworn in, bringing diversity, GOP shakeup to Harrisburg

By: and - January 19, 2021 3:14 pm

Stacey Garrity, left, and Tim DeFoor, right, were sworn in as Pennsylvania’s two newest row office holders on Jan. 19, 2021. DeFoor will be the first person of color elected as a row officer in state history, while Garrity is the first women elected to such a statewide post since 2012. Both are Republicans (Capital-Star photo).

Two Republicans were sworn into Pennsylvania’s row offices Tuesday, breaking eight years of Democratic control in some of the highest ranks of state government and bringing diversity, in more ways than one, to Harrisburg.

In separate ceremonies, Stacy Garrity and Tim DeFoor were sworn in as the commonwealth’s new treasurer and auditor general, respectively.

Garrity, of Bradford County, defeated Democratic incumbent treasurer Joe Torsella in the November election with a slim 52,500-vote margin, according to Department of State data. 

Torsella, of Montgomery County, was the first Democratic row officer to lose reelection in almost three decades.

As treasurer, Garrity will now manage, directly and indirectly, more than $100 billion in the commonwealth’s funds.That includes through a seat on the governing boards for the state’s massive pension funds for retired teachers and bureaucrats.

She will also cut checks for the state, and can block payments she deems illegal. 

Dauphin County’s DeFoor, meanwhile, beat Philadelphia Democrat Nina Ahmad by more than 200,000 votes, in their fight to replace outgoing Democratic Auditor General Eugene DePasquale.

DePasquale, of York County, who served the constitutional limit of two terms in office, will teach at Widener Commonwealth Law School in suburban Harrisburg.

As auditor general, DeFoor is now tasked with revealing misuse and malfeasance in the spending of public funds. While some of the office’s audits are required by law, the office otherwise has discretion to decide what and what not to investigate.

He and Garrity could also insert themselves into tense budget debates between Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and the GOP-controlled General Assembly, as either one could potentially block some forms of new debt.

But outside the powers now in their hands, both DeFoor and Garrity put a new face on government in Harrisburg.

Garrity is one of only three women to hold a statewide position since 2012. While a handful of women have been elected as row officers, Pennsylvania has never elected a woman governor or U.S. Senator. 

DeFoor, who is Black, will make history as the first person of color to hold a row office in Pennsylvania. 

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While Garrity took the oath of office at the Forum Auditorium adjacent to the Capitol, DeFoor opted for an outdoor event at King Mansion a few blocks from the Governor’s Mansion in midtown Harrisburg.

Both events stand in marked contrast to Wednesday’s presidential inauguration in Washington D.C., where President-elect Joe Biden will be sworn in under the protection  of 20,000 National Guards soldiers.

Neither Garrity nor DeFoor made specific reference to the extraordinary times, but they both tried to set a positive and bipartisan tone for their four year terms.

In her inaugural address, Garrity, a military veteran, said her new job “is to be the steward of taxpayer money”

“Service to others, be it in an elective office or in the uniform of our country, is the highest calling,” Garrity said. “And getting the job done in good faith and with honest effort, is the watchword by which I promise to serve you.”

DeFoor struck a similar note to Garrity. He called for a return to “humble public service,” and cited recently deceased civil rights leader and Georgia Democatic U.S. Rep. John Lewis as an example.

“I will look at every issue through a non-partisan lens,” DeFoor said.

He added afterwards that he would retain staff from DePasquale’s administration who could “do the job.” His first priority, DeFoor added, was to complete an unfinished audit of Wolf’s controversial waiver program for business reopenings amid the pandemic. 

Two’s company

Garrity and DeFoor’s ascension means that two of Pennsylvania’s three row office positions – which were all held by Democrats until Tuesday’s ceremonies – will be held by Republicans.

Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the only remaining Democrat to hold a state-level row office, also took his oath of office Tuesday.

Shapiro, of Montgomery County, defeated Republican challenger Heather Heidelbaugh, of Allegheny County,  in the general election by more than 300,000 votes. He also got more votes than any other candidate on the ballot in Pennsylvania in November, including Biden.

Shapiro was sworn in for  his second term during a ceremony at the Pennsylvania Judicial Center in Harrisburg. His oath of office was administered by former Attorney General Bruce Beemer, now a judge on the Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas.

As Pennsylvania’s top cop and prosecutor, Shapiro oversees an office of attorneys, investigators and law enforcement agents who investigate and prosecute civil and criminal cases on behalf of the commonwealth.  

He attracted national attention in his first term when his office released its 2018 grand jury report detailing decades of sexual abuse and cover up by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania. 

He has also cut a profile as a consumer protection advocate, filing lawsuits against student loan providers and opioid manufacturers.

Shapiro, who is rumored to be a potential Democratic candidate for governor in 2022, also has attracted criticism from criminal justice reform advocates, especially for his role on Pennsylvania’s Board of Pardons. 

The Capital-Star reported last year that Shaprio opposed more clemency requests from Pennsylvania prisoners than anyone else on the five-person pardons panel.  

Shapiro touted his consumer protection efforts during brief remarks following his inauguration Tuesday, saying his office would fight the economic inequalities laid bare by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When bias and inequality limit people’s potential, it robs us of a safer, more just and prosperous country,” Shapiro said. “Justice requires us to have one rule of law – not different rules for different people.”

Capital-Star Associate Editor Cassie Miller contributed to this story. 

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Stephen Caruso
Stephen Caruso

Stephen Caruso is a former senior reporter with Pennsylvania Capital-Star. Before working with the Capital-Star he covered Pennsylvania state government for The PLS Reporter.

Elizabeth Hardison
Elizabeth Hardison

Elizabeth Hardison covered education policy, election administration, criminal justice and legislative news for the Capital-Star from Jan. 2019-April 2021. You can find her on Twitter @ElizHardison.