Bill McSwain, a Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor, likes to emphasize his public-service experience – and his distinction as a relative political newcomer.
The 53-year old former federal prosecutor and Chester County native hasn’t held elected office, unlike other high-polling hopefuls State Senator Doug Mastriano (R-Gettysburg), former Congressman Lou Barletta (R-PA-11) and former County Commissioner Dave White (R-Delaware). That’s often among the first details McSwain and his supporters mention about him.
“Bill owes nobody anything,” Commonwealth Partners Chamber of Entrepreneurs President Matt Brouillette said, discussing why his organization, a pro-free-market nonprofit, endorsed McSwain in January. “He is not a politician who has had to make promises to people. Bill brings leadership, having run a very large government operation … [and] being a former Marine, a scout sniper platoon commander.”
McSwain attended Harvard Law School after coming back from his 1996 military deployment to the Persian Gulf. He served in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the mid-2000s and would head that agency from 2018 to 2021, working in private practice in the intervening years. In both arenas, he would argue prominent cases on which he has built a reputation as a constitutional conservative and a crime-fighter.
While still a young legal associate not long out of Harvard Law School, he offered his services to the Chester County Board of Commissioners asserting their right to display a plaque of the Ten Commandments on the facade of the county courthouse in West Chester. He recalls that 2003 win against the American Civil Liberties Union among his most contented moments as a lawyer.
“I’m proud of that case,” he told The Pennsylvania Daily Star. “The First Amendment provides freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. And, furthermore, a lot of the principles of the Ten Commandments are enshrined in our secular laws. … I enjoy walking by the courthouse and driving by the courthouse to this day and seeing that plaque there.”
When considering his career as a prosecutor, he remembers most fondly his victory last year against what supporters call “safe-injection sites,” locations at which those with heroin and other hard-drug addictions could use such substances under supervision. Concurring with McSwain, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against the sites, which were initially envisioned to be set up in Philadelphia, though the ruling prevents their establishment anywhere in the Keystone State.
“[Those sites were] not going to help solve the opioid crisis because, by encouraging heroin use, all you’re doing is perpetuating and normalizing the kind of behavior that’s killing people,” he said. “But then, more importantly to a prosecutor, it’s against the law and I took an oath to enforce the law.”
Other cases McSwain oversaw included an indictment of former Congressman Michael “Ozzie” Myers for an alleged voter-fraud scheme and prosecuting individuals involved in Philadelphia 2020 riots. He has inveighed against Larry Krasner, the city’s district attorney, for laxity in dealing with those and for skyrocketing violent crime rates in the City of Brotherly Love. The Republican proposes that the city’s district attorney elections be scrapped in favor of appointments – a change that would require direct voter approval.
While McSwain’s primary opponents are also running fairly conservative campaigns, the former notes some contrasts when it comes to economics. He would support Pennsylvania adopting a right-to-work policy, i.e. prohibiting contractual requirements that a worker pay union dues, whereas the heavily union-supported White would not, and Barletta has not committed either way. McSwain also wants to permanently cut Pennsylvania’s gas tax in half. (At 57.6 cents per gallon, the state has the highest such tax in the nation.)
And while McSwain has recently received ire from his former boss Donald Trump over the ex-president’s dissatisfaction as to the extent of voter-fraud investigations, McSwain highlights the election integrity issue as paramount. He points out his opposition to Act 77, the 2019 law that legalized no-excuse absentee voting in Pennsylvania. (Both Mastriano and Senate President Pro Tempore Jake Corman [R-Bellefonte] voted for the legislation.)
With two weeks remaining before Primary Day, both Mastriano and Barletta are polling a few points ahead of McSwain, but the multitudes of Pennsylvania Republicans still mulling their choices give the ex-prosecutor’s supporters much hope.
“Right now, today, ‘undecided’ is still winning this election for governor,” Brouillette said. “So there are still a lot of people who haven’t made up their minds about the candidates who are running for governor. Bill has always been in the top tier of candidates and we think that the more voters get to know about him as well as the others [who are running] that he will emerge victorious on May 17.”
The Republican nominated for governor that day will face Democratic state Attorney General Josh Shapiro in November.
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