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Josh Shapiro sworn-in as Pennsylvania governor and declares victory a rejection of political extremism

<i>Mark Makela/Getty Images</i><br/>Democrat Josh Shapiro
Getty Images
Mark Makela/Getty Images
Democrat Josh Shapiro

By Gregory Krieg, CNN

Democrat Josh Shapiro was sworn in on Tuesday as the 48th governor of Pennsylvania at a festive inaugural ceremony in Harrisburg and called his election victory a rejection of “extremism” while declaring his place in history as the “the next link in the chain of progress.”

Surrounded by family, state government leaders, members of Congress and former governors, Shapiro put his hand on three Hebrew Bibles as he took office. One of the holy books came from the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, where in 2018 a gunman killed 11 people, including a number of Holocaust survivors, in the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history.

“You also sent a clear message — Democrats, Republicans and independents — when you came together to resoundingly reject extremism here in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said on a chilly afternoon outside the state capitol. “Together, hope defeated fear. Unity triumphed over division.”

The former state attorney general, Shapiro was elected in a landslide last year, defeating Republican Doug Mastriano, a 2020 election-denying far-right state senator, with more than three million votes — setting a new record for statewide candidates. He is the third Jewish governor elected in Pennsylvania and widely viewed as a potential future Democratic presidential prospect.

Earlier in the day, Shapiro attended the inauguration of Austin Davis, 33, who became the state’s first Black lieutenant governor. In his own remarks, Shapiro celebrated the state’s tradition of progress, but cautioned that its loftier values have often come into conflict with reactionary forces.

Shapiro also cast the “peaceful transition of power” from now former Gov. Tom Wolf to his own administration as further affirmation that American “democracy endures.” That democracy, he noted earlier, “is not a given.”

“This work is more important now than ever before, because over the last several years, we have been reminded over the last several years, of the fragility of our democracy,” Shapiro said. “Here in Pennsylvania, we didn’t allow the extremists who peddle lies drown out the truth. We showed that our system works, our elections are free and fair, safe and secure.”

Pennsylvania in 2020 became one of the key targets of former President Donald Trump’s efforts to, at first, stop the counting of legitimate votes, and later, with the backing of Republican officials from around the country, an unsuccessful bid to overturn President Joe Biden’s victory.

Earlier this month, Shapiro chose Republican Al Schmidt, a vocal opponent of Trump after that election, to be the state’s top elections official.

Schmidt was the lone Republican on Philadelphia’s elections board when Trump and his allies falsely declared a premature victory in Pennsylvania and then sought to prevent officials from completing their count of mail-in ballots.

Trump called Schmidt out by name on Twitter, prompting a wave of harassment and threats, but he refused to back down. On January 6, Schmidt was among the 12 individuals honored by Biden with the Presidential Citizens Medal in a recent ceremony marking the second anniversary of Capitol riot.

Though Shapiro in his speech did not rehash the specifics of his policy agenda, he sought to deliver a broader, soaring tribute to the idea of a “real freedom” embodied by liberal goals, like abortion rights, access to public education and economic opportunity, and a government “that respects you for who you are — no matter what you look like, where you come from, who you love or who you pray to or choose not to pray to.”

“Real freedom,” he said, “where political differences cause debate, but do not give rise to demagogues.”

Throughout his speech, Shapiro, who spent the Martin Luther King Jr. Day holiday volunteering with his family at a Jewish community center in the capital, described his Judaism as both a guide and moral backstop.

“My own faith teaches me that no one is required to complete the task, but neither are we free to refrain from it,” Shapiro said, quoting as he did on election night from Pirkei Avot, a Jewish ethical text.

He added: “In this Capitol and throughout our Commonwealth, we have a unique responsibility to keep doing the hard and necessary work to strengthen the democracy that was born here 246 years ago.”

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