State Rep. Austin Davis made his first visit to Philadelphia as a candidate for lieutenant governor Friday, announcing his run flanked by the city’s Democratic party establishment and Attorney General Josh Shapiro, the lone Democratic nominee for governor, who also backed his campaign.
The first-term legislator from Western Pennsylvania is relatively unknown in the region, but Shapiro’s endorsement, and joint campaign activities to come, are likely to give him a big advantage in the lieutenant governor’s race.
Davis, who would be the state’s first Black lieutenant governor if elected, says his working-class upbringing and diverse background make him an ideal choice to round out the ticket with Shapiro. “I have always believed that the people closest to the pain should be closest to the power,” he said in his campaign launch.
Here are some things to know about Davis ahead of Pennsylvania’s primary May 17.
How did Davis get his start in politics?
Davis, 32, grew up in the Mon Valley, an industrial center near Pittsburgh. He was a first-generation college student whose mother worked as a hairdresser and whose father was a union bus driver. He studied political science at the University of Pittsburgh. He worked in county government before running for state representative.
In 2018 he was elected to represent the 35th District, which includes his hometown, McKeesport. He became the first Black representative to lead the district and one of only four Black representatives in the legislature who represent majority-white districts. Davis also chairs the Allegheny County House Democratic Delegation and is a member of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus.
Why did Shapiro endorse him?
Shapiro, who is from Montgomery County, told The Inquirer he chose Davis because, “I wanted someone who brings a different life experience, who is diverse, who comes from a different part of the state than I do.” He said with Davis as his second-in-command, “there will always be a voice in the room that adds to the conversation and helps us achieve more for the good people of Pennsylvania.”
Davis has said he thinks he got the nod in part because his working-class background would benefit the governor’s office.
Shapiro didn’t have to endorse at all. Plenty of gubernatorial candidates have opted not to but doing so gives him an opportunity to influence the race and help the candidate he’s hoping to work with.
Who is he running against?
A colleague of Davis’, State Rep. Brian Sims, announced his candidacy over a year ago and had raised about $285,000 as of the last filing. Sims was also shortlisted for Shapiro’s endorsement.
Sims comes to the race with greater name recognition from serving in the legislature since 2012 and from being an outspoken critic of Republicans in the statehouse. He’s also helped Democrats around the state running for office. Some supporters of Sims, who would be the state’s first openly gay lieutenant governor, are angry Shapiro got involved, given it likely tilts the scales.
Ray Sosa, a Montgomery County banker, who ran for lieutenant governor in 2018, is also running on the Democratic side.
Republicans vying for the lieutenant spot are Back to School PA political action committee founder Clarice Schillinger of Montgomery County and State Rep. Russ Diamond of Lebanon County. There are more than a dozen Republican candidates running for governor.
What does Pennsylvania’s lieutenant governor do?
The lieutenant governor in Pennsylvania serves as president of the state Senate and chairs the Board of Pardons, which investigates applications for pardons to erase convictions from a person’s criminal record. The lieutenant governor also chairs the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Council, which directs statewide emergency management policies.
But more often, the lieutenant governor acts as a second-in-command to the governor at appearances and public events. While the duties are limited, it’s a role that comes with a spotlight and often sets up candidates to run for higher offices. Lt. Gov. John Fetterman went from a small-town mayor to lieutenant governor to his current position as a front-runner in the Democratic Senate primary.
Who’s lining up behind Davis?
Pennsylvania’s Democratic establishment had already lined up behind Shapiro, and so far, that group is largely lining up behind Davis. The announcement in Philadelphia Friday was attended by Democratic City Party Chair Bob Brady, several members of City Council, and State Rep. Donna Bullock, who is chairing Davis’ campaign.