Sue Kerr: Courage of Convictions

By October 23, 2018 No Comments


Jeremy Shaffer wants to be the next Republican to represent the 38th State Senate District. He defeated incumbent Randy Vulakovich in an ugly primary, but faces a very significant challenge from Democratic nominee, Lindsey Williams. A recent internal poll showed Williams with a 9 point lead over Shaffer.  

Of late, Shaffer’s campaign has been busy defending shady tactics like posting campaign signs labeling Williams as a “Socialist” with a matching set of scary commercials tying socialism to higher taxes. His supporters are also trying a tractionless challenge to Williams’ residency and more. Shaffer’s belief is that voters in the 38th district do not understand the nuances between ‘socialism’ and the Democratic Socialist Party of America whose endorsement Williams sought and did not secure. The DSA shares Williams commitment to centering working people.

Perhaps this grueling schedule of smearing his opponent’s credibility explains why he missed a key vote on LGBTQ issues in his current elected role as a Ross Township Commissioner.

In mid-September, the fifth largest township in Allegheny County voted to establish an Equal Opportunity Board and extend nondiscrimination protections in employment, housing, and public accommodations based on sexual orientation and gender identity as well as protected classes covered by state law. The State General Assembly has been unable to muster a committee hearing much less a floor vote on the issue, thanks in large part to obstruction tactics by Republicans like Daryl Metcalfe.

The ordinance in Ross Township passed 5-2 with one no-show, all along party lines. The no-show was Jeremy Shaffer who can now technically say the he has not voted for or against LGBTQ rights.

Shaffer is running an intriguing campaign where he is both a staunch Christian family man, but one who does not mention his actual church affiliation on his campaign website. He’s a member of Three Rivers Grace Church which does not believe women can have authority over men, but opposes slavery.  What an interesting thing for women and people of color living in the 38th district to consider:

Slavery is not rooted in creation. One-man/one-woman marriage, gender roles in marriage and the church, and the prohibition against homosexual activity are all rooted in God’s good created order.

Shaffer’s leadership role in this church strongly suggests he might in fact be socially conservative on LGBTQ matters. And casting a vote against the local ordinance would have been consistent with those values.

But that same vote could hurt him in his state-level campaign. Republicans have been contorting themselves in every direction to support protections in employment and housing (not so much public accommodation because of those pesky bakeries and bathrooms.) Pennsylvania is the only northeastern state lacking these statewide protections. We stand out like a backwards sore thumb and this hurts economic development. Large companies do not want to establish a presence in communities where their employees might experience discrimination. It hurts their ability to recruit and maintain a workforce as well as their reputation in the consumer marketplace that is light years ahead on LGBTQ rights.

Jeremy Shaffer does not benefit from being lumped in with Daryl Metcalfe on this issue. Metcalfe will continue to block the state legislation until Republicans are fed up enough to actually challenge him. Thus, Shaffer can see a path to victory that does not hold him accountable for a vote on LGBTQ issues.

Voting no on the ordinance could have fed the rumors of his extreme conservative viewpoints. Voting yes would have bucked the party base he needs. He didn’t need to vote because Democrats had the votes to win so his opposition would not have changed the outcome. It was a lose/lose situation for Ross Township voters who deserved to have their elected officials on the record on all matters.

So he just didn’t show up for the vote. Is that what residents of the 38th district really want – someone who doesn’t show up on difficult votes to protect his campaign viability? Someone who lacks the moral conviction to simply state his church affiliation in order to protect his campaign viability? Someone who didn’t do his job by participating in a regularly scheduled commission meeting?

So, Ross Township residents now can file discrimination complaints directly with their municipal government and have an appointed board that is accountable to their local officials. On Election Day they and the rest of the 38th district can also benefit from electing a State Senator who has the courage of her convictions and does not shy away from her affiliations. That’s the leadership Pennsylvanians need to finally secure statewide nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community.

Sue Kerr is a Pittsburgh Current Columnist. Contact Sue at info@pittsburghcurrent.com.

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