When Rep. Conor Lamb decided to run for Senate in 2022, western Pennsylvania found itself with an open House seat.
And following the May 17 primary election, both major parties have their candidates.
The Republican candidate is Jeremy Shaffer, a former Ross Township commissioner. The Democrats have nominated Chris Deluzio, a voting rights attorney and Iraq War veteran.
Pennsylvania’s 17th congressional district encompasses all of Beaver County and much of the Allegheny County suburbs.
Shaffer spoke with the Chronicle about a variety of topics from term limits to gun violence to antisemitism.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
What makes you uniquely qualified for this position?
You know, I am a problem solver at heart. I went to Carnegie Mellon and got a Ph.D. in electrical and computer engineering. Right now, there’s almost 200 lawyers in the United States Congress, and I think there’s only eight engineers…. I served as a Ross Township commissioner and was elected twice. I served as president of the 33,000 people of Ross Township. I was elected president on a board that was six Democrats and three Republicans, and I was elected by a bipartisan majority because they liked the way I solved problems. And I worked across party lines to get things done. And right now, in D.C., things are far too polarized.
What would be your first priorities when you get into office?
I think that the system is broken. One of the things that I think both parties should be able to agree on is term limits. There’s something wrong when people have literally been in Congress for 40 or 50 years sometimes. Oftentimes, they go down there, and they start off with the best intentions, but it really was not intended to be a lifelong career. We should have people who are citizen representatives who go down to Congress, represent their communities and come back and then get back into the community.
On your website, you advocate for investments in infrastructure. Would you have voted for the bipartisan infrastructure bill last year?
I would have voted for the infrastructure bill. I believe that it wasn’t perfect. Part of the challenge is oftentimes when you’re faced with very large bills, you might like 80% of what’s in there and you might disagree with 20%, and you’re forced to make a decision. I’m the type of person who would rather make incremental progress [instead of] letting the good be the enemy of the perfect. And infrastructure is an area that should be a bipartisan issue. Having good infrastructure, whether it’s roads, bridges, high-speed trains, effective ports, locks and dams. Those are things that will benefit our region and our country and really should be something that we all rally around.
The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act was recently signed into law by President Biden. Would you have voted for this law? What else do you think should be done in terms of combating gun violence?
You know, there’s a lot of parts of that law that I’m on the record as supporting. I’m in favor of universal background checks. I’m in favor of keeping guns out of the hands of people who make violent threats. If they’re shown to have made threats against their spouse or their boyfriend, girlfriend or they’re mentally unfit, they should not have guns. So, there were a lot of good things in that bill. I haven’t read all the details. I can’t comment on whether or not I would vote yes or no on it. Look, I have five kids. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare to see something in the news or get a call about a school shooter. Most Republicans, most Democrats would agree we want safe schools, we want safe communities. Let’s look at all of the things that 90% of people can agree on, whether that’s background checks, or whether that’s keeping guns out of the hands of people who have mental issues, or whether that’s strengthening our schools. We should be able to get that funding in place.
How do you feel about the recent overturning of Roe vs. Wade, and how would you legislate in response to this?
Personally, I am pro-life. I believe in the sanctity of life. I do favor exceptions for things such as rape and incest and life of the mother, but I also believe that it is really the role of the states to set the policy. I do not believe that it’s Congress’ role. Before Roe v. Wade was enacted 49 years ago, for almost 200 years, it was the role of each individual state to determine the proper limits on abortion. I believe that now it will be up to the Pennsylvania legislature and Pennsylvania governor to determine those limits.
Congressman Lamb had good relationships with the area’s Jewish community and worked to ensure its safety. What will you do to continue this priority?
It’s a high priority. I lived in Squirrel Hill when I went to Carnegie Mellon. I am very familiar with the wonderful diversity of the whole community from Reform to Orthodox. I believe strongly that we need to protect that community, and that there’s no place for antisemitism. And that we need to make sure that any violence or threats against the community, or any community for that matter, be dealt with quickly and efficiently and prevented. So I would be a strong advocate for the Jewish community, wherever it is. Whether it’s in the suburbs, whether it’s in the city, I believe that everyone should be able to freely observe their religion and not be subjected to any threats.
In terms of Israel, do you believe in a two-state solution? What would your policy look like there?
So, Israel is a linchpin in the Middle East. It is our main ally. We have such a long, rich history with Israel and we need to absolutely, unequivocally support Israel as the Democratic state ally that it is in the Middle East. And yes, I support the two-state solution. I support working with the Israeli government to get to a peace settlement. I think we’ve had some excellent first steps with the Abraham Accords and normalizing relationships with other countries in the Middle East. The United States government should help Israel establish a positive ally base there in the Middle East with other countries. That is desperately needed because the number one enemy right now is Iran in the Middle East. Iran is wreaking havoc across the Middle East, whether it’s trying to send out terrorist assassination squads against Israeli citizens, or whether it’s trying to foment rebellions in Yemen, or cause trouble and arm terrorists in Lebanon and Syria and the Gaza strip and the West Bank. Number one, we need to support Israel. Number two, we need to deal with the existential threat of Iran, because it is Iran’s goal to basically wipe Israel off the map. And we, as the United States, cannot allow them.
Do you think defense aid to Israel should have conditions on it?
No, I do not. I do not think there should be conditions to Israel. The Israelis will know how best to spend that money with the situations they have going on. We should not hamper it with strings attached.
Would you have joined the challenge to Pennsylvania’s electors in the 2020 election?
I am on the record as saying that I would have accepted the approved electors from the state of Pennsylvania.
There’s been a rise in antisemitism, locally and nationally. What’s your understanding of why this is taking place and what role can the government play in stemming hate?
You know, it really saddens me to see how much hate there is. That hate manifests itself in a variety of ways. Unfortunately, oftentimes, it is minority or unique communities that are the target of that, because they’re a very easy focus of it. I think what we need to work to do in this country is to be one people, to be Americans first. To realize that, ultimately, we’re all created equal. Fundamentally, we are the same no matter what our skin color is, no matter what our religion is, no matter what our ethnic background is. We need to work together to make this country a better place. I think that that starts with leaders stepping up and presenting an inclusive message that says all communities are welcome, that says that everyone is created equal. That is something that I would be a strong advocate for. PJC
Ethan Beck can be reached at email@example.com.