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Rep. Josh Shapiro.
In Their Own Words

An Interview with Rep. Josh Shapiro
Deputy Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives.

-- Ben Burrows

Rep. Josh Shapiro, who represents Philadelphia's 153rd Legislative District (Abington and Upper Dublin), is the Deputy Speaker of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Currently in his second term. Shapiro has earned a reputation as a bipartisan consensus builder delivering results at home and in Harrisburg. Shapiro is a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee and Co-Chair of the Speaker’s Commission on Legislative Reform, as well as a member of the Finance and Insurance committees. He is a magna cum laude graduate of the University of Rochester and of the Georgetown University Law Center.

PJV: Is there anything in particular that has been concerning you?

I have been trying to get an Open Records bill passed before we go home for the holiday, and I am trying to get that done, and several other bills, and we only have three or four days of the session left. It is sort of a mad dash to accomplish things in the final days.

PJV: Is Judaism part of your adult life?

Very much so. It was part of my childhood; it is certainly part of my adult life. My family and I are observant Jews. I went to Jewish Day School at Solomon Schecter and at Akiba, and I think, most importantly, is the influence my Judaism has on my public service. For me, when you boil down all the teachings and all the rituals, fundamentally, Judaism is teaching that none of us is required to complete the task, but neither is any of us free to refrain from it. It is really what guides me in my public service, and what that means, then, is that we don’t have a requirement on us to solve every problem, but we are also not permitted to sit on the sidelines and leave someone else do it for us. And so for me, the public service arena has been my way of doing my part to help complete the task.

PJV: How would you suggest for your voting public to be involved.

I think it is very important for everybody to be involved with their community.

PJV: OK, there are lots of ways people can be comfortable, and its not up to one person to advise their entire community what the best way for them to be involved is.

Sure, and I’m not saying everyone has to be in public service and there are lots of different ways to be involved with your community.

PJV: You have shown creativity and insight in engineering coalition and compromise among a hotly-divided group of legislators. Your creative substitution of Republican Rep. Dennis O’Brien for Democratic leader Rep. Bill DeWeese, for instance, allowed a slim Democratic majority to organize the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. Your investigation of new ethics and speaking rules for the House has opened up possibilities of open and accountable government, which cynical analysts thought might take another geologic age to protrude from the primordial swamp of Harrisburg politics. Is this a talent you only recently discovered in yourself, or have you always been such a catalyst for finding solutions?

I have always tried to bring people together and I’ve always tried to find common ground, and that’s what I tried to do in selecting Dennis O’Brien Speaker of the House --- in helping to select, helping to select him speaker. It offered a unique opportunity for Republicans and Democrats to come together, but it also gave us the opportunity to control the agenda and advance causes that we believe are important.

PJV: Had you had similar experiences in high school or college or your adult life prior to your election that might have suggested a similar coming together?

I think there have been many instances, both in the political arena and others where I have tried to bring people together. And that is just a trait of mine.

PJV: Do you have any aspirations for a higher political office?

At this time, I am just focused on doing my job well, and if I do my job well, the rest will come.

PJV: Do you feel that the state legislature should have more freedom to set more stringent standards to protect the public than laws and regulations set at the federal level?

Yes, but that would be unconstitutional. I think that given the Bush administration’s unwillingness to, for example, put stringent environmental standards in place, I had hoped many times that we would have a chance to adopt stricter environmental standards. However, we are barred by the federal Constitution from doing so.

PJV: Is this something that can be remedied through federal legislation that would allow states to set standards?

I think it would really be an affront to the Constitution. I do not know how you would do that. The federal government specifically said state governments can adopt stricter policies on guns or environmental policies or whatever, but after that the Constitution would bar the state from going beyond what federal law is.

PJV: With regard to Roe v. Wade, if the Roberts’ court votes to overturn earlier criteria for permissible termination of pregnancy, would you support a reargument based on First Amendment, Jewish religious grounds? That is, freedom of religion grounds -- that Jews, in some instances, are not just allowed but required[to terminate a pregnancy?

That’s an interesting argument. I had not thought about that. I would support any argument to protect a woman’s right to choose, and if we can make an argument on religious grounds, I would. Should the issue of abortion come back to the states in the event that the Roberts’ court would overturn Roe v. Wade, I would vote to keep abortion safe, legal and rare.

PJV: With regard to same sex marriages, is there a reason why the Commonwealth could not apply the term civil union to all householding couples and eliminate the state government’s involvement with religious sacrament of marriage entirely, but simply avoiding the term marriage in all of its laws and regulations.

It could, but I think it is unrealistic. Marriage is an important institution in our Commonwealth; it certainly is to me. I would not like to undermine the union of marriage in any way, shape or form. I think the real issue is whether I would want to confer rights on same sex couples, the same rights as married couples enjoy, and the answer to that is yes. A same sex couple committed in a relationship should have the same rights and responsibilities as a married couple.

PJV: My point is that if someone wants to take away that capability from some people, why not just take it away from everybody and leave the sacrament of marriage up to churches, synagogues, mosques and other religious institutions?

I suppose that is one approach. I would have to look into that and see what I think. I would not want to take the notion of marriage out of our state law.

PJV: Up until the recent Montgomery County Commissioner elections, Democrats Joe Hoeffel and Ruth Damsker were leading by substantial margins in the polls. Apparently Democrats were unable to match Republicans advertising budgets in the last weeks of the campaign and this led to a loss of the courthouse despite gains in several line offices. Do you feel there is a fundraising problem for Democrats in the Philadelphia suburbs?

Actually, Hoeffel and Damsker had more money than Castor and Matthews did. So, I do not think it was a fundraising disadvantage at all. I do not think it came down to money, I think it came down to the message and the issue of environment, and that is why they lost.

PJV: Do you see possibilities of new coalition-building between the Philadelphia Mayor-Elect Michael Nutter administration and suburban legislators of both parties?

Emphatically, yes. Michael and I have already begun speaking about regionalism and some ways we can work Montgomery County together with Philadelphia. I think it is critical on transportation, on crime, on the arts and culture, on so many issues, that there be regional cooperation. Unlike [Philadelphia Mayor] John Street, who really frankly put his head in the sand and ignored those around him, Michael Nutter is going to reach out and work with the other counties and work with the other elected officials to make sure our region is strong.

PJV: There seems also to be some reaching out from some areas in the "T" [areas of Pennsylvania beyond the Greater Philadelphia and Pittsburgh areas]. Just recently, I got an email from an Erie County Democrat to let us know that he was running a progressive campaign and let us know what his issues were. Is there a coalition-building area that you have been involved with?

Yes, I am trying to help progressives all around the state and it is good to see more and more of them coming alive.

PJV: Is that going to be an issue when the state legislature is up for reelection? I have not seen much about electing progressives to the Pennsylvania legislature in either house, although I have seen some email about it with regard to Congressional races. Is that an issue with regard to the state legislature.

Absolutely. I would encourage them to reach out to you.

PJV: Do you have anything you would like to tell your public through our publication.

Just that it is important, as I said, to be involved with community, and to be involved with service of some kind and always make sure we stay true to our teachings --- really the teachings that Jews and non-Jews alike should embrace --- and that is the responsibility to be involved and try to make a difference.

Previous Interviews

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