In the days immediately following Bill McSwain’s announcement for governor, Broad + Liberty reporter Todd Shepherd had the opportunity to travel with the campaign. The candidate and his wife spoke with Todd about their background and campaign issues.
The interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Todd Shepherd: Why are you running for governor?
Bill McSwain: I’m a native son of Pennsylvania. I love Pennsylvania, I want Pennsylvania to be strong —one side to the other. And I want to give people the same opportunities to live the American dream in Pennsylvania.
I grew up in West Chester, a very happy childhood. I met my wife in the fourth grade in West Chester. Stephanie and I have known each other for a long time. I received a great education in the state attending public schools in West Chester. I’ve had a fulfilling career as an attorney as a public servant, and I raised a family in West Chester with Stephanie.
We have four children and I want them to live in a state where they want to be in Pennsylvania, to have opportunities in Pennsylvania for the rest of their lives just like everybody else in the state.
Unfortunately, right now we don’t live in a state like that. We live in a state that is towards the bottom of 50 states in terms of population growth. It’s struggling economically. It’s not achieving its potential. And I want to create a Pennsylvania that’s a better place for my children, my grandchildren, and for everybody else’s families.”
‘I want to create a Pennsylvania that’s a better place for my children, my grandchildren, and for everybody else’s families.’
TS: A split has been evident in the Republican party lately, especially over the idea of an election audit, between, I guess you would say the [Senator Doug] Mastriano side of the party that seems more aligned with the former president. Do you see a split in the party and see that as something that you have to overcome? Or do you see that as something that will heal over time?
BM: What you’re getting at is that there was a part of the Republican party that has a lot of allegiance to President Trump. And then there are other parts of the party that may feel differently. And I want to be a kind of candidate who can unify the party. I want to be, the candidate that gets support from everybody.
I think I can do that in the sense that I have credibility with the Trump wing of the party — if I can describe it that way. I was appointed by President Trump and he trusted me with one of the most important jobs in this administration, which is being a U.S. attorney. I’m very proud of the work I did in the Eastern district to keep people safe. So, I have credibility with that wing of the party.
At the same time. I’m my own person. I’m not trying to be President Trump, there’s only one President Trump. And I think people who know me know that I always do what I think is right. And I take advice and take input from a lot of people, and ultimately I make up my own mind about things.
And so, I am going to be the kind of candidate who hopefully can appeal to all the different parts of the party and unify us and lead us to victory in 2022, because I think that we are in a position where if we have strong gubernatorial candidate in ’22, someone like me, we will win.
TS: In all of your speeches so far, you’ve mentioned Attorney General Josh Shapiro, who nearly all the pundits and press agree is the front runner in the Democratic primary. If the two of you were to win your respective nominations, the general election would be prosecutor versus prosecutor. Does that take away a selling point of your campaign?
BM: I think one of the things about elections is that you need to give a clear choice. Contrasts are important.
I actually think that even though Josh and I are in similar positions, there’s still a lot of contrast between us — the first and most obvious contrast is that he’s a career politician and I’m not. He has climbed the political ladder his whole career. And I believe that he’s always made decisions in his career, including as the state attorney general that were always based on politics. I’ve never made decisions that way. And I certainly did not make decisions that way when I was U.S. attorney. There’s a big contrast between Josh Shapiro, a career politician, and Bill McSwain who is the opposite of that.
And then secondly, Josh Shapiro, even though he occupies a position as state attorney general, he himself is not a prosecutor. He has never prosecuted a case in his life. He is not a trial lawyer like me; he is not a courtroom lawyer like me. And subsequently he makes decisions in his role as the attorney general based on political calculations. So, I think there’s a clear choice for people about whether to vote for a fake prosecutor like Josh Shapiro, a pretend prosecutor, right? Or to vote for a real prosecutor, a real public servant like Bill McSwain.
‘There’s a clear choice for people about whether to vote for a fake prosector like Josh Shapiro… or to vote for a real prosecutor, a real public servant like Bill McSwain.’
B+L: Going back to the July incident between you and former U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr, do you see that as something that’s mainly in the rear view mirror, or do you expect it to come up again, whether from competitors on the right or the left?
BM: I think what I learned in this process already is that I can’t always control what people are going to think. And I can’t worry about that. All I can do is tell the truth. I have a lifetime reputation for honesty and integrity. It is the most important thing to me in this process — is to never violate that. And everything that I put into my letter to President Trump, asking him for his support in this race, is a hundred percent true. I lived it. I know it’s true. I stand behind it. Bill Barr and I had some disagreements about things that happened last November, but my letter is a hundred percent true and the chips are gonna fall with that.
B+L: (To Bill’s wife, Stephanie McSwain): Do you have a story that maybe you haven’t shared on the campaign trail yet, about “this is the guy who ought to be governor?”
Stephanie McSwain: It’s a long story, but so we’ve known each other since fourth grade, but we got to be really good friends our senior year in high school. We continued to be good friends through college.
And I would always do things with Bill on free weekends, but I did have a boyfriend for a long time. And the first time Bill asked me to marry him, I was still going out with that boyfriend.
And so that’s what I was saying: It’s like Bill thought of this idea. He decided: This is what I want to do — I’m going to make this happen and he shows up with the ring.
And I said, ‘By the way, I’m going out with someone else.’ He didn’t really think that was relevant. Well, he really thought it was somewhat relevant, right? So, you know, all the time he does stuff like this where you say, ‘You’re crazy, you know?’ But a year later he proposed to me again and I said yes. When he sets his mind to something — all I can say is he’ll have some doubters sometimes, even including me. But he will find a way to do what he wants to do and what he thinks is right. So, it worked out perfectly.
Todd Shepherd is Broad + Liberty’s chief investigative reporter. Send him tips at firstname.lastname@example.org, or use his encrypted email at email@example.com.