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Factionalism in politics is generally a fact of life.  But sometimes the labeling is absurd.  When right-wingers attack "liberal" Republicans today, they are often attacking backers of Barry Goldwater, Ronald Reagan, and Newt Gingrich.

Today, Pennsylvania's most prominent Rockefeller Republican died.  Calling Ray Shafer, Governor of Pennsylvania from 1967 through 1971, a Rockefeller Republican is not name calling: he placed Rockefeller in nomination at the 1968 Republican National Convention, and then served on his staff when Rockefeller served as Vice-President under President Gerald Ford (1974-1977).

I never met Ray Shafer, but he appointed me to his Youth Advisory Council at the recommendation of Lieutenant Governor Ray Broderick, a New Deal lawyer with my father and mother in the Rural Electrification Administration. The Youth Advisory Council did not do much that I recall (I remember chairing a subcommittee meeting or two on now-forgotten subjects) but it was typical of Shafer's desire to reach out to dissident voices in the Vietnam War era.

Shafer was, in a sense, the Manchurian candidate of Pennsylvania liberalism.  He campaigned relentlessly across the state throughout his one term in the state senate and one term as lieutenant governor, generally mouthing platitudes.  He came from a rural, rock-ribbed Republican area.  In his state senate term, he did not give a single speech on the floor of the Senate.  Who would have guessed that his silence, generally assumed to be consent, masked profound differences with Republican orthodoxy?

His 1966 gubernatorial campaign against former cable television entrepreneur Milton Shapp--then a novelty as the first to defeat an entrenched party organization with an expensive self-funded media campaign--was overshadowed to a large degree by negative tactics against Shapp by the Philadelphia Inquirer, other media, and the Republican Party.  "It's Safer With Shafer," was his slogan.

With the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, the death of his original running mate--former Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Walter Alessandroni, tragically killed in a plane crash in young middle age--was symptomatic of how he would make decisions.  He called various Republican leaders, and asked for their recommendations.  He then chose my father's friend Broderick, one of the most liberal Republicans one could find. He chose Broderick, however, in the name of east/west ticket balancing, and maintaining good relations with the Philadelphia Republican party leadership.

Shafer was the Mikhail Gorbachev of Pennsylvania's Republican Party.  Step by step, he led it away from where it had been and into the vanguard of progressive leadership.  Republicans started ridiculing him as the cartoon character Dudley Doright.  But he persevered, staking out position after position far to the left of the Republican Party and occasionally to the left of the Democratic Party.

Legislative Democrats were also frustrated by him. Having positioned themselves as the modern 20th century party eager to solve the problems of the day, they were stunned to find a man they had considered to be a troglodyte in an empty suit agressively fighting on their turf.  They wanted him to either deliver Republican votes to provide funds for the programs he was publicly advocating, or to stop what they considered to be posturing.

Shafer sometimes was able to provide money to go with rhetoric, as spending for education and welfare skyrocketed.  But, all too often, he was caught in a political no-man's land between the Democrats whom he fundamentally agreed with on the vast majority of the issues and the Republicans who put him in office, whom he disagreed with on the vast majority of the issues.

When his term expired as Governor, he angled unsuccessfully for a federal judgeship and agreed to chair a national commission on drug policy, which recommended the legalization of marijuana.  His years as a Rockefeller staff member were low-key, as was the rest of his life. He headed a small corporation for a time, and then worked for a Washington acccounting firm, dispensing legal and political advice to corporate clients.

He served a brief stint as President of his alma mater, Allegheny College, in which capacity he sent his only post-gubernatorial letter to the legislature on a matter of university concern.  As I write this today, I deeply regret that I did not pick up the telephone and have a conversation with him.

He stayed away from Harrisburg, and stayed away from the state Republican Party.  He had not only burned his state Republican bridges; he had nuclear bombed them.  

Milton Shapp succeed him as Governor with the slogan "Now You Know: It's Really Safer With Shapp."  Shapp though pursued progressive policies with the same sense of indirection that Shafer had employed, making it more difficult to mobilize public support behind him.  But Shapp had Democratic majorities behind him, and thus got far more done than Shafer had.

Former Pennsylvania Governors tend to fade into obscurity after a while, and the passionate debates about the policies they pursued tend to be forgotten as well.

But Ray Shafer deserves to be remembered. In an era in which the Republican Party is seen increasingly as a party of right-wing extremists, Shafer stands as a symbol of the road not taken.  Had Rockefeller been elected President in 1968, and appointed Shafer to a major position, certainly the politics of the 1960's and 1970's would have been quite different.

What Shafer and Rockefeller basically stood for was the concept of two progressive parties, competing on the basis of who could do more for the public.  That concept is dead today.  With Shafer's death, its small band of adherents has shrunk even more.

As far as I know, Shafer never apologized for his term as Governor, and never expressed regrets. All he did was to follow the example of his early career, and retreat to a prudent silence. As the saying goes, you have not converted a man because you have silenced him.

Originally posted to State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 08:54 PM PST.


If the Reublicans Were a Progressive Party, Would

17%8 votes
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| 45 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

  •  Moderate Republicans were already dead (0+ / 0-)

    Figuratively speaking, of course.

    •  Shafer, Rockefeller Were Last Gasp (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein, walja, Josh Thomas

      In retrospect, you are absolutely right that Rockefeller and Shafer really had no chance in the long run.

      But the fact that they saw opportunities is fascinating in itself.  The dynamics between leaders recognizing political opportunities and creating them is never fully certain or predictable.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:16:36 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  In Wisconsin (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rickeagle, terrypinder, Josh Thomas

        our equivalent to Ray Shafer is Former UW Stevens Point Chancellor and GOP Gov. Lee Sherman Dreyfus who wore his red vest on his old dilapidated bus all over the state.  Along the way to the Governor's Mansion Dreyfus upset then Congressman and later Senator Robert Kasten in the 1980 GOP primary, the last significant win by the moderate wing in Wisconsin, and then defeated non-elected incumbent Acting Gov. Martin Schreiber in the general election.

        Dreyfus pushed through the first ban on sexual orientation based employment discrimination in the United States. On fiscal issues he was a shrink the government anti-tax crusader, but it was iconoclast Lee Dreyfus who got the ball rolling on equal rights for all, and he followed though in 2006 by opposing and blogging against the lamented Gay Marriage Ban that passed 59-41 in Wisconsin 36 days ago.

        That is why when some on this site claim that Republicans must be relentlessly opposed, regardless, I recall Dreyfus, his defeat of Kasten, and his courageous signing of the employment discrimination ban, and it makes me wonder if they know their history at all.

        Hope I don't get trolled for this viewpoint, it has been 18 years since I voted for a Republican afterall, lol.

  •  Allegheny College (0+ / 0-)

    Sorry -- as an alum, I have to make that correction.

    "Whenever someone says he's going to save your soul, keep a tight grip on your wallet."

    by bergerc84 on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:00:31 PM PST

  •  schweiker was pretty liberal... (0+ / 0-)

    btw congrats again for taking back the House.

    Any job openings over there across the street and where do they get posted?

    •  Schweiker Repented His Liberalism (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein

      Schweiker was pretty liberal, but he repented after Reagan offered him his support for the Vice-Presidential nomination in 1976.  Reagan and Schweiker didn't make it that year, but Schweiker instantly converted into a conservative Republican, went into Reagan's cabinet in 1981, and then served many years as head of the insurance industry's lobbying arm.

      Shafer, as I said, never repented.

      If you are interested in a job, send me (and DeWeese and Keith McCall) a resume.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:23:10 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I read the Shafer Commission report on marijuana (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Ray Radlein, walja

    The commission's recommendations would be roundly rejected by most member of both major parties--a sad commentary on how little we have learned from nearly a century of drug prohibition.

    "I am a Christian first"--Augusto Pinochet.

    by Dump Terry McAuliffe on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:14:01 PM PST

    •  Marijuana Seen As Gateway Drug (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Ray Radlein, walja

      Marijuana has been demonized as a gateway drug that gets people addicted. Advocates of legalization have to be able to overcome this core belief if change is to occur.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:25:28 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Gateway Drugs (0+ / 0-)

        Ironically, for a time, in England, marijuana was a gateway drug, to the really dangerous stuff: Nicotine.

        Marijuana cigarettes were frequently cut with tobacco, resulting in joints that got their smokers addicted... to cigarettes. I assume — I hope — that's no longer the case.

    •  Shafer Report link, Nixon response (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Yamara, walja

      It was the Shafer Commission Report which killed his bid for a Federal Judgeship.

      Nixon's comment to Haldeman on seeing the report, from the White House tapes...

      "I see another thing in the news summary this morning about it. That's a funny thing, every one of the bastards that are out for legalizing marijuana is Jewish. What the Christ is the matter with the Jews, Bob, what is the matter with them? I suppose it's because most of them are psychiatrists."

      Full text, Report of the National Commission on Marihuana and Drug

      Democratic Candidate for US Senator, Wisconsin, in 2012

      by ben masel on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 11:08:51 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm always surprised by (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Yamara, Josh Thomas moderate to liberal many of Pennsylvania's elected Republicans used to be.

    Sadly, moderate Republicans in this state seem to have dwindled to Arlen Specter.  And even he hasn't been as willing to stand up against the conservatives as he used to be.  Just look at how he caved on habeous corpus.

    When I was in High School, Pennsylvania seemed like such a Republican state.  The Republicans controlled both branches of the state legislature, and every state-wide elected position, save for the Auditor General's office.

    Now, the tables have turned so drastically.  I wonder if, perhaps, the decline of moderate/liberal Republicans has something to do with it.  No matter what conservatives like to say, Pennsylvania is not, at heart, a state that likes to elect right-wingers.

    In any event, thanks for posting this.  My favorite former Pennsylvania governor has always been George Leader, as he's not only a native of my home county, but he's also an alumn of the same college that I attended.  

    I was unaware of Ray Shafer's record, though.  Now that I know more about him, he ranks close to the top of my list.

    •  "Don't Beat Us; Persuade Us." (0+ / 0-)

      "Don't Beat Us; Persuade Us" has long been the unofficial slogan of the state Republican Party.  They have converted political caution into a very effective form of outreach, encouraging people to work with them to influence their positions on a variety of issues.

      Rick Santorum, of course, would have little to do with this gentle influence peddling.  By making so absolutely clear where he stood, he made it absolutely clear that he stood on the fringes, away from the vast majority of Pennsylvanians.

      Those Republicans who like to emulate Santorum's style are clearly in jeopardy.  Those who like to be wooed, and are willing to let progressives and moderates in on the wooing process, are the Republicans only hope of staving off a total long-term Democratic takeover of legislative and executive power in our Commonwealth.

      Progressive Democrats have done a lot of good for our country in the past, and can do a lot more in the future. Let's keep going strong.

      by State Rep Mark Cohen Dem PA on Tue Dec 12, 2006 at 09:57:42 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  I was a Rockefeller Republican (0+ / 0-)
    When Nelson Rockefeller lost the Republican presidential nomination in 1964 to Barry Goldwater, I campaigned all-out for every Democrat on the ballot - even for a nobody named John Raber who ran against the House Minority Leader, Rep. Charlie Halleck, who was a friend of my grandmother's. My parents were scandalized, but Goldwater half-wanted to nuke Vietnam.

    I was 13 years old and very, very proud of President Johnson's record on civil rights. He was every bit a partner to Martin Luther King Jr. But then, of course, Johnson "escalated" the war in Vietnam.

    When Rockefeller ran again four years later, I supported him as an anti-war Republican. He came to campaign in my state, and I hitchhiked to the capital to pass our flyers for his appearance. Unfortunately I'm not a good hitchhiker and I walked a long, long way before I got a ride. I did make it, though, and was dispatched to a shopping center, where I promptly passed out in 100-degree heat. I was young and stupid, with no money for food or water. I got yanked to the hospital and didn't get to attend Rocky's rally.

    But he heard about it, and when he swung back through two weeks later, his staff invited me to meet him. The campaign photographer took pictures: that famous Rockefeller profile and me still with scratches and scabs on my face from when I hit the concrete. The meeting only lasted three minutes, but I was a kid and he was on a mission.

    Shortly afterward my family went on a rare camping trip, and when we got back home I had a package from the governor of New York: pictures and a letter. A week later I watched TV as Gov. Shafer of Pennsylvania nominated his fellow Eastern liberal Republican as president of the United States.

    Nixon won, of course, and I wasn't old enough to vote until 1972, when I proudly cast my primary ballot for an anti-war Democrat, Hubert H. Humphrey of Minnesota. He lost too, to George McGovern, but then came back to my state after the convention to campaign for the man who'd just defeated him, an incredibly gracious act, of a sort we no longer see in our politics. Now, losing politicians just get PO'd and slink home. But Humphrey was a party man and he knew how bad Nixon could be.

    I've never in my life heard a speech like the one Humphrey gave for McGovern in Indianapolis in 1972. He liked to talk and he was damn good at it. No doubt it was his standard stump speech that fall, but it was new to me and a real side-winder; for a solid hour he held a whole arena in thrall. The Watergate break-in had already happened and he ripped Nixon for it. Humphrey gave a hundred different reasons why McGovern would be better for America.

    What none of us in that arena knew was that Humphrey had cancer that would kill him two years later.

    That December of '72 I traveled to Florida over Christmas break, and happened to come across an empty storefront that had served as Humphrey headquarters months before in the Florida primary. It still had a giant poster in the window, which I wish I could have taken, but of course the door was locked. I'll never forget it: a giant photo of a smiling Hubert on the campaign trail, plunging into the crowd to shake a Black lady's hand. HUMPHREY, it said simply, YOU KNOW HE CARES.

    I've been a Democrat ever since. Thank you, Rep. Cohen, for your tribute to Gov. Shafer.        

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