Interview: Bucks County’s Joe Khan on Why He Wants to Be Pennsylvania’s Next Attorney General

Khan recently served as Bucks County Solicitor, was Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of PA before that, and began his career in the Philadelphia DA's office.
Image courtesy of @LRinaldiArt. (

On April 23, Democratic primary voters will decide who they want to run to represent them as candidate for attorney general in November’s election. It’s a crowded and talented field of candidates, and while some may disagree, I actually think it’s a good thing for voters to have choices and to have candidates have to really fight for and earn voters’ support. Today I welcome one of the candidates to the podcast – Bucks County’s Joe Khan. Joe served as the Solicitor for Bucks County, during which time the Pennsylvania Bar Association recognized him as 2022’s Government Lawyer of the Year and the County Commissioners Association of Pennsylvania honored him with the Outstanding Solicitor Award. Before that he was Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania for a decade. And he began his career in the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office where he prosecuted cases of sexual assault, child abuse, and domestic violence. Today, Joe joins us to talk about why he believes his experience and vision for the office makes him the best candidate to ensure we have a Democratic Attorney General for the next 4 years. 

[Also listen on AppleSpotify, GoogleiHeart, and Podbean.]

So why are you running to be the next Attorney General of Pennsylvania?

Well, as I said, thanks for having me. Really great to be here. And I’m really privileged to get to be in this position to run for attorney general.

To continue it for me it has been a 24 year fight to keep folks safe, not just from crime, but also corruption and attacks on our rights. And this is a really hard office for Democrats to win. Only two Democrats have ever won this office. And that usually happens because the Republicans tag the Democrats as being soft on crime and not serious about public safety. And I’m not going to let that happen because I know that the Republicans will talk about dealing with crime in the cities. But the reality is the reason they want this office back is a roll back our rights. And besides being a prosecutor and besides being a public interest lawyer, it’s the work I’ve done here in Bucks County defending our rights that I understand are most at stake. And so I am excited to be running for this office with so much support and enthusiasm around this campaign. And at the end of the day, I’m doing this for my kids, because I want them like all Pennsylvanians to have an attorney general that’s going to look out for them and help build a better world.

And what have you been learning as you’ve crisscrossed and campaigned across the Commonwealth? What are voters most concerned about?

Well, I think the first thing I’d say that I’m learning is that everyone wants the same thing. It really doesn’t matter if I go into a North Philadelphia neighborhood or I am in a church in Beaver County or somewhere in between. You know, Pennsylvanians want to be safe. They want to be safe from crime. They want to be kept safe from corruption. And they want to make sure that no one’s taking away their rights. And that I think is universal. And it’s the reason that that our candidacy has really caught fire in all corners of Pennsylvania. But in particular to your question, what folks are most concerned about are these efforts to take back our rights. And I grew up learning about what abortion was when I was a little kid and my mom who worked in the ER told me about a mother that she lost in her hospital because that woman had tried to get an abortion but couldn’t do it safely or legally and lost her life. And so I’ve always understood that if that right isn’t protected, people’s lives are gonna be at risk. And I think that everyone in Pennsylvania who is tuned into what’s happening in this country and what the Republicans wanna do with offices like this understand that the right to abortion is at stake. I think folks also understand that,

You know, MAGA has taken over the Republican Party. And, you know, what we did, not just here in Bucks County, but by leading county governments across Pennsylvania to stop Trump from throwing out our votes, and fighting him all the way to the Supreme Court and beating him when he was getting his legal advice from the likes of Rudy Giuliani. You know, the Republicans are going to be much better prepared this time. And there is an attempt to roll back democracy, to throw out our votes. And I think folks understand that we need to get this right, that for a job like Attorney General, there’s no time for on-the-job training. We need to stop these last gasps of MAGA’s extremism and make sure that we protect everyone’s rights in Pennsylvania.

So, you know, one of the things you mentioned was, you know, the political canards, one of the political canards Republicans kind of predictably regurgitate on Democrats each election cycle is that you’re soft on crime. So why are you not soft on crime? And why is your approach to criminal justice and public safety smarter on crime than the GOP candidates?

Yeah, I mean, first of all, you can put those two candidates together and I’ve got more experience as a prosecutor than either one of them. It’s important not just for winning the election, but also for doing the job that we have someone who has the experience and the judgment to to truly keep people safe and have criminal justice approaches that are smart and focus on public safety. And so you can look at what I’ve done, which I think is really important for voters to assess. Over 16 years, you know, I started out my career prosecuting sexual assault and child abuse and domestic violence. Back in those days, those cases weren’t always taken very seriously by some in law enforcement. And it was important that we change attitudes and change cultures to make sure that we balance the scales of justice and we had the criminal justice system working for some of those most marginalized victims of our community.

And when I went to the U.S. Attorney’s Office, the federal prosecutor for 10 years, I got a look at a system that instead of what Pennsylvania has, which is incarcerating people before trial based on whether or not they’re able to come up with an arbitrary amount of money, we only detained people before their trial if they were going to be a danger to society or they were going to flee the country or something, right? And, you know, there’s no reason that we can’t have common sense reforms like that here in Pennsylvania. And so not just having the experience of being a prosecutor, understanding how to do that job as the top prosecutor in the Attorney General’s office, but I think even more importantly, as I’ve done in the seven plus years since I started a new chapter, leveraging my credibility to advocate for those kinds of reforms, I think is critical. And so I am not going to shirk when Republicans say that we somehow want to open up the prison doors and let dangerous people slaughter innocent people in Pennsylvania – I’m not gonna take that bait and I’m not gonna be lectured. These guys, they have tough talk, but they don’t have serious solutions. And I have a track record that resonates not just because of all the cases and the headlines you can look to in terms of what I did, but because when I look people in the eye and I say, I’m not just gonna tell you I wanna keep you safe because it’s some aspiration I have about what I might do someday. I can look them in the eye and say, I’ve done this work, I’ve been doing this work my entire career, and I want to continue to keep you and your family and your community safe. And I think at this point, we’re at a stage where voters can spot authenticity and they can spot the other thing. And I think that’s one of the reasons that we will have a tremendous advantage in the general election.

What about corporate crime and corruption? If you’re elected attorney general, how would you tackle that?

Yeah, look, it is what inspired me to make a shift after 16 years as a prosecutor to start a new chapter in civil justice. You know, when I got an understanding that there were companies like Purdue Pharma that saw a heroin epidemic across the country as an opportunity to make even more profit. I basically started over and became a civil litigator and figure out a different way of kind of, as they say, going after the bad guys. And, you know, I represented the communities like the city of Allentown and eventually Bucks County in going after those kinds of companies, not only to hold them accountable, right, and to send a message that this kind of behavior is going to be punished, but also to get resources from these same companies to clean up some of the mess that they had made. And so that’s work that I did that brought me to Bucks County. When I had the opportunity to come here and literally redefine the role of what it was to be a county solicitor, one of the first things that I did, Cyril, was to make consumer protection part of the county solicitor’s portfolio that had never been done before.

You know, we can talk about all of the accomplishments that we were able to achieve here in Bucks County. But one of the last things that I did and one of the things that I’m most proud of is when we made Bucks County the first county in America to go after TikTok and Snapchat and Facebook and YouTube and Instagram, for targeting kids like mine, kids who I, in my case, had reluctantly put on screens during the pandemic.

And these companies, they saw an opportunity to make profit and they thought they’d get away with it. And I’m really proud that after we started that fight six months later, the Pennsylvania attorney general joined it. So did other attorneys general. But I think that those are the kinds of fights that the attorney general needs to be taking on. And I don’t think it’s just a matter of are we going to prosecute people that we can prove violated criminal law or are we going to sue companies that need to be held accountable for what they did as a corporation. I think we need to be doing both. I think what we need to be thinking about more importantly are what are the problems that everyday Pennsylvanians are dealing with and what can we do to make it better. 

So when I stood in front of all those news cameras in front of the whole country and said that we were taking this fight to Silicon Valley to the doorsteps of these companies, yes, I signed those legal papers as the county solicitor for Bucks County. But more importantly, I was doing that as a parent and I was standing in the shoes for a lot of parents who knew something was going on and expected someone in government to step up and do something. And that’s what I think the Attorney General of Pennsylvania needs to be doing.

image - Bucks County Beacon - Interview: Bucks County's Joe Khan on Why He Wants to Be Pennsylvania's Next Attorney General

And how could you fight for workers as attorney general?

There are so many ways. Now, I think it’s always important, Cyril, for us to give credit where credit is due. And I want to begin by saying that when Josh Shapiro became attorney general, he really moved that office in the right direction, away from a failed war on drugs and into the areas that only the attorney general can really provide statewide leadership. And dealing with issues like addressing and prosecuting wage theft is a really good example of the important work that then Attorney General Shapiro started. And there’s so much work for us to do.

I look at some of the work that’s being done outside of the attorney general’s office, right? My friends in SEIU, in SEIU Healthcare, which represents nurses and home healthcare workers and other folks who are on the front lines of taking care of people in Pennsylvania, they have advanced a cutting edge legal theory, which reimagines our antitrust enforcement, which has usually been about making sure companies don’t cheat to make prices too high for consumers. And they took a fresh approach and said, can’t we also use that same law to stop those companies from getting together and driving wages too low? And I think that’s exactly the kind of new thinking that we need in the attorney general’s office. So whether it’s going after wage theft, or wage suppression, or going after the issues that no one is really asking questions about. What does it mean when AI is developing so quickly that jobs are being eliminated before people that are protected by a collective bargaining agreement even have a chance to raise their hand and raise an objection or a question? These are the kinds of issues that develop so fast that there’s really no time for legislators to try and hold hands between the House and the Senate and get something from the governor. But I know from 24 years experience that if you have the vision and the experience, you can go to court, and with the stroke of a pen by a judge, you can have a court order that Pennsylvania’s public education system is unconstitutional and Harrisburg better get it right. You can get a court order that our congressional maps are unconstitutionally gerrymandered and force Harrisburg to get it right. And that’s why I want this job, Cyril. It’s to use the power that the attorney general uniquely has to address these problems that no one else can take on the way the AG can.

Let’s stick with the topic of democracy and voting rights, which you just talked about and talked about also earlier as well. In March, 2022, the Washington DC based Watchdog group documented recorded a MAGA election integrity meeting in Harrisburg where then director of FreedomWorks, Election Protection Initiative, Carol Davis told the audience, the vision I have for everyone is thousands of little brush fires all over the state. They can’t put them all out, folks. And what she was articulating is what we’ve seen since Trump lost the 2020 election and he and his followers have refused to accept, and not just in PA, but in battleground states across the country. And that’s well -funded coordinated attacks on our democratic elections via voter suppression, disinformation, and attempts to flood the system with baseless legal challenges. What can and would you do as attorney general to protect our democracy and our elections?

Great question, Cyril. What I will do is build on what I started in 2020. And if I can, I’m going to agree with what you’re saying, but add to it that it actually started even before Trump lost the 2020 election. And so it just so happened that my appointment as county solicitor coincided with the 2020 election. The Democrats here in Bucks County won control of county government for the first time in 40 years. And so that gave me the opportunity to come up here. And within weeks of coming onto the job I got a letter on my desk from some people I’d never heard of. They had some ridiculous name like Judicial Watch. And they said that they were concerned about election integrity and that we had massive voter registration fraud. And we had to make sure that we got people kicked off the voter rolls or we were going to get taken to court. 

It didn’t add up. 

We eventually figured that it wasn’t just Bucks County, which had switched party control in November of 19. It turns out Delaware County got the same letter. It turns out Chester County got the same letter. You know what we all had in common? We all went from Republican control to Democrat control. Not that we all had some kind of epidemic of voter registration fraud. Now, fortunately, because I came into the position, I was the first time county solicitor. And although we went on to build, in my view, one of the best law departments in Pennsylvania, we hadn’t built that department yet.

And so I knew that the only way we were gonna be able to address what smelled to me like a fight someone was picking was to work together and team up. And as an attorney, I know there are times when you need to negotiate and you need to settle cases, but people’s constitutional right to vote is not one of those times when you can do that. And so fortunately that became the beginning of a partnership with some of my fellow solicitors. And we fought back, we didn’t budge. They tried to negotiate with us and get us to agree to kick a certain number of people off the rolls and we said no. And we fought them all the way up to the top appeals court and we won. And that was kind of a preview of what was coming. We went through a bunch of fights with Trump’s allies in that group, Judicial Watch. They didn’t tell us that they were run by a guy named Tom Fitton, who folks may recognize as one of Trump’s key allies. He’s now an unindicted co-conspirator and one of the prosecutions down in Georgia. So by working together, we were able to coordinate and anticipate a lot of what we dealt with. And that’s exactly, in your words, the words you quoted, a flood of baseless challenges is exactly what we dealt with in 2020. And as I said, this was being mastermind by people like Rudy Giuliani who went to my old neighborhood in Northeast Philly by the Four Seasons Landscaping Company parking lot, right? These were the kinds of bright ideas that they had. And so it was a volume game. They tried to kill us with a thousand paper cuts and we beat them all back. And even though it took a long time, we went to the US Supreme Court to settle it. We won. As difficult and sort of stressful as that was sometimes, we didn’t have a single election denier anywhere in county government of Pennsylvania. Now these folks are run for office everywhere, including a board of elections.

And so back to your question, what the attorney general is going to have to do is not only do what we had when Josh Shapiro was there in 2020, which was an ally and a firewall to make sure we didn’t have an AG throwing the fight when these nonsensical claims came into court, but we’re going to need to do as attorney general is what I have done before, which is to get  … court actions to force government to do its job. And that is what we’re up against because we didn’t win the litigation over the 2020 election in 2020. We were fighting it all the way through 2021, believe it or not, even 2022. And so this is not going to be a time on-the-job training. We’re only going to have one chance to get it right. And that’s one of the reasons that I was inspired to step up for this role.

Great, so we’ve talked about quite a bit thus far, criminal justice, public safety, corporate crime, consumer protections, workers’ rights, as well as election integrity and voting rights. What’s an issue we haven’t talked about or which may be often overlooked that you think voters in the AG’s office should be more focused on?

If I’m lucky enough to be elected this role, I’m gonna spend every day in my term as attorney general asking that question: What’s the next thing? And for me the first thing on that list when I launched this campaign, was having somebody in government raise their hand and say I want to be held accountable For a problem that’s facing Pennsylvanians all across this Commonwealth whether they’re in urban communities, suburban communities, or rural communities and that is the housing crisis. 

And I understand that the Attorney General has unique criminal and civil enforcement powers to take on everything from rogue landlords to unscrupulous developers to people who own mobile home property that are being exploitative of those who live in those communities. There are so many opportunities for the AG to really think holistically about this problem without thinking about it just as a criminal or a civil problem to solve, but rather a problem facing Pennsylvanians. And I am really excited that since we started talking about that, about creating the first ever housing justice unit in an AG’s office, that now folks in the media are talking about the AG taking on housing. I’m delighted that some of my opponents are talking about the AG taking on housing. And this is exactly what I think the kind of leadership that we need to see in this office. And it’s gonna be the first of the new things that haven’t been done before that we’re gonna take on if I’m sworn in as AG.

And who would you partner with for a project like that?


We’re going to have a table of advisors during a transition team that is not only going to have folks like my friend Senator Nikhil Saval. He was deeply passionate about this issue and was one of the first people to endorse me because of his excitement about my leadership on these kinds of issues. But we’re also going to have folks who are in the business community, you know developers who really wanna do things the right way and don’t like it when their competitors break the rules and get away with all kinds of mischief when these folks are actually trying to do their part to build a better world. So whether it’s folks who are advocates for tenants rights …  I have friends in groups like the Community Legal Services in the Public Interest Law Center in Philadelphia, who have been really doing revolutionary work in this space and have been looking for years for an ally in the Attorney General’s office or in DA’s offices across Pennsylvania. And I’m not only going to be an ally for these friends, we’re going to be recruiting a lot of them to come get to work.

But I think it’s essential that we get to work right away. And so I see that time in between the November election and inauguration as a critical transition time to make sure that we get everyone together, get the best possible ideas to do something that’s never been done before. So then day one, we can get to work.

One voting block that’s demanding more of a voice are Millennials and Gen Z, the youth vote. What’s your pitch to them? Why should they support your campaign?

Well, first of all, my first pitch is get involved. Let’s work together, right, to fix what is broken. And so many times when I am having conversations with folks … I’m Gen X, so I’m a little bit ahead. And so often when we are talking about what’s on their mind and what frustrates them about government, we hear so many of the same issues. Some of the issues you and I just talked. Wages for a non -state day’s pay are too low. The ability to own or even rent a home is really out of reach, right? There are in many communities inadequate supports for the public education that they want to provide in the communities where they live, right? And so very often these kinds of frustrations, which are 100% not just justifiable, but are ones that so many of us share, regardless of our generation, these often take folks to take a step back from politics and the system. And my message to these folks is this is exactly the kind of fuel that should propel you to get involved and join our campaign and help us fix it. You know, when I started out as a prosecutor, I was 24 years old and I walked into a criminal justice system that I quickly understood was broken in so many critical ways. And what I also understood is that those scales of justice that are outside the building of the courthouse, they don’t balance themselves. And systems like the criminal justice system, the civil justice system, they are only as good as the people trying to make them better. And so, you know, one of the things that’s been so inspirational for me as a candidate to be part of this campaign is the breadth and the diversity of the coalition that we have built. You know, it is diverse in geography, in ideology, right, in race and faith and in generation. 

And I am just so excited when I see pictures of people that are already out there Cyril, knocking on doors canvassing for this campaign, and I’m seeing people that are Millennials and Gen X, and I’m seeing baby boomers and Gen Zers, and being in a place where I can use the opportunity this campaign to bring people together like I’ve been doing throughout my career For me is part of what keeps me going.

Great, and one last question. You’re running in a crowded and what a lot of people, including myself, would say is a talented field of Democratic candidates. Why are you the candidate that Democrats should rally around to ensure the office of attorney general stays in Democratic hands?

Yeah, I mean, look, if we’re talking about making sure we have someone to win, I’m first of all the candidate with the experience, certainly as a prosecutor and in criminal justice and in civil justice to lead that office. But I also have the vision and leadership to make sure that we win. And it’s in many ways unprecedented the way that we have built this inspirational coalition that has brought people together. 

Part of that is a little bit about my background. I mean, it’s true I’d be the first Asian American ever elected statewide, but folks, really usually get a chuckle when they hear how things started. My dad was an immigrant from Pakistan. My mom grew up in Northwest Philadelphia. And when they got together in the 70s, him being a Muslim and she being a Catholic, the only place they could settle on to raise their kids was a Jewish neighborhood. And that was pretty much the story of my childhood. And it was kind of tough growing up sometimes, always feeling different than everyone. And it wasn’t actually until I got to law school that I met a professor who had the same background of feeling different than everyone when he was growing up. And he also had a Muslim immigrant dad and a Christian American mom. And he helped me understand that having to always relate to people that are different than you, it wasn’t going to be a handicap that was going to slow me down as a public interest lawyer. It was going to be my superpower.

And his name is Barack Obama. 

And we all know him now as someone who built diverse coalitions and brought people together. And I was able to have him as an inspiration in my life at an early age. And so in my own way, I have continued to follow the lessons that I learned back then in terms of doing what’s right, standing up for everyone, and bringing people together. And I’ll state the obvious. I’m the only one running in a battleground area like Bucks County, and that’s one of the joys of doing this, is I’m not only running in a way that is going to make sure we win this office, but I’m also going to be helping elect Democrats up and down the ballot. And that certainly starts here in Bucks County. We have amazing candidates I am thrilled to be running with…they’re on the ballot. And it’s one of the reasons also we have been endorsed not just by some of the most progressive leaders in Pennsylvania, but also some of the folks in those swing districts like my friend here in Bucks County, Brian Munroe, right? You want a running mate that’s going to help them win and help their soon-to-be colleagues win those really tough races. So it’s a thrill to have this record of all these great things we did. We did them here in Bucks County in an almost entirely bipartisan way. And as a candidate to be running in a place where, as we all know, as goes Bucks County, so goes Pennsylvania. So we’re going to make sure that I am the best person to lead that office. But I’m the candidate who’s going to make sure that we win.

Well, Joe, thanks so much for coming on and good luck to you on April 23rd.

Thanks so much, sir, it was great having you. Thanks for all the work you do, especially, I just wanna say, as someone who was on the ground with so many of my fellow parents, when we were kicking the moms for liberty out of our school board here in Central Bucks, the Beacon was literally that. It was such a great source of inspiration and truth to help get the word out. And I really just as a parent appreciate all the work that you and your staff and your writers and your whole team did to help make the work that was done by those amazing candidates and the voters possible last year. So thank you.

I appreciate that Joe.

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Picture of Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko

Cyril Mychalejko is the Editor-in-Chief of the Bucks County Beacon. Read his columns on Sundays and follow him on Twitter.

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