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Will Eugene DePasquale run for Pennsylvania attorney general? Maybe.

  • Chris Potter/WESA
Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale speaks during a Pennsylvania Democratic Party fundraiser in Philadelphia, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

 Matt Rourke / AP Photo

Pennsylvania Auditor General Eugene DePasquale speaks during a Pennsylvania Democratic Party fundraiser in Philadelphia, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019.

They say that those who can’t do, teach. Try telling that to University of Pittsburgh poli sci instructor Eugene DePasquale, a two-term former state auditor general.

“I’ve won more than I’ve lost,” he said brightly. After all, in addition to eight years spent as the state’s top fiscal watchdog, he also served three terms in the state legislature. And he’s eyeing a potential return to state-level politics in 2024.

“As an attorney, as the former auditor general and someone that has been willing to take on big fights, I’m kicking the tires really hard on running for attorney general in 2024,” he said.

After current Attorney General Josh Shapiro becomes governor, his top deputy Michelle Henry is expected to take over with Senate confirmation. But such interim appointments are typically made with the expectation that the placeholder will not seek a full term in office. While 2024 may seem a long way off, the names of numerous contenders are already being bandied about, including that of departing Democratic Congressman Conor Lamb.

For his part, DePasquale said he’s begun talking to party leaders, potential donors and political activists about the landscape.

“The biggest thing I want to know is, what are they looking for in an attorney general? And do my skills and background match up with that?” he said. “And so far, it’s going well, but there’s a long way to go.”

In Pittsburgh, DePasquale’s name recognition is boosted by his political pedigree: His grandfather, Eugene “Jeep” DePasquale, was elected to City Council the year Eugene was born. The younger DePasquale grew up in the city’s East End and played football on a Central Catholic High School team that won a state championship. (Though DePasquale recalls playing future NFL tight end Kyle Brady in that game and thinking, “I’m going to law school, as proposed to getting hit by guys like him for the rest of my life.”) He later moved to York and served in the state House between 2007 and 2013 before becoming auditor general.

While DePasquale is a lawyer, he has not been a prosecutor — a position that often serves as a springboard for those seeking to become the state’s top attorney. But then, neither was Shapiro. And DePasquale’s work since being elected as auditor general in 2012 has touched on topics of concern to law enforcement.

A 2016 audit, for example, found nearly 5,000 untested rape kits gathering dust in the evidence lockers of local law enforcement agencies. Frequently, the kits stemmed from cases in which a defendant pleaded guilty prior to trial, but DePasquale said, “We know that 90 to 95 percent of people that rape do it again. So why wouldn’t you at least do the test” for the sake of other victims. The same year, DePasquale’s office audited the state’s ChildLine abuse-reporting hotline and found over 40,000 unreturned calls in 2015.

More broadly, DePasquale said that if he ran for and won the office, he would continue the work Shapiro did to expand its scope. Under Shapiro, the office broadened its work beyond traditional responsibilities like investigating corruption to take on large-scale criminal cases and represent the state in legal fights: He put new emphasis on asserting environmental and consumer protections as well.

“I think he was the best attorney general in the state’s history,” said DePasquale of Shapiro. “He redefined the role.”

(That’s not to say they always agree: Both are fitness freaks and not shy about trading more-or-less good-natured barbs about it. Queried about which man would win an Iron Man competition, DePasquale said, “It’d be me. It’s almost embarrassing that you ask the question.” He did, however, add a few moments later: “The only caveat I need to give is that if he is a significantly better swimmer than I’m aware of.”)

DePasquale said he would continue Shapiro’s efforts in areas such as assuring safe practices by the natural gas industry. He also touted Shapiro’s part in ensuring that western Pennsylvania’s two health care giants, Highmark and UPMC, didn’t force each other’s customers out of network. That 10-year agreement lasts until 2029, but DePasquale said the work of renewing that agreement “has to start two years out. You can’t wait until two minutes out. Continuing that [agreement] is critical.”

For much of their political careers, DePasquale and Shapiro have enjoyed similar trajectories, both serving in the state legislature and then in statewide row offices. In 2016, DePasquale posted an easy 5-point re-election bid alongside Shapiro, even as Donald Trump won the presidential race. But DePasquale was term-limited, and in 2020 Democrats lost the auditor’s post without him to hold it. DePasquale himself ran for Congress that year against Scott Perry and lost in a hotly contested race.

“Maybe that’s why I had to go back into the teaching ring,” DePasquale joked.

Since that election, Perry has emerged as a key figure in former President Trump’s efforts to overturn the outcome of the 2020 Presidential election, though DePasquale says he doesn’t regret passing up a rematch this year.

“Do I believe Congressman Perry should be in Congress? The answer is no. … I put everything I had into that race. I don’t regret the effort,” he said. “But the turnout from the other side was just too much to overcome in a district that certainly leaned Republican.”

He notes that Perry easily won re-election this year even after revelations about his involvement in efforts to overturn the outcome in 2020.

Such results, he said, underscore the stakes for every race in 2024 — including the office he is deciding whether or not to seek.

“We’ll have to see who Democrats nominate, who the Republicans nominate. But I believe voting rights will be on the line, needing an attorney general who protects a woman’s right to choose because clearly, that battle is not going away,” he said. “The environment, consumer rights … [taking] on corporations and holding them accountable. To me, the only party even talking about that, let alone doing it, is the Democratic Party. And that’s certainly a fight I would be taking on.”


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