Pa. Lawmaker Short-circuits GOP Grab

By Jennifer Siegel

Published January 19, 2007, issue of January 19, 2007.
  • Print
  • Share Share

In some ways, Pennsylvania State Rep. Joshua Shapiro, 33, had a low-key New Year’s Eve. Married, with children ages 1 and 5, he did the “lame parents” thing with his wife: Chinese food, kids to bed early, hanging out in front of the TV.

Then, before midnight, Shapiro — a moderate, second-term Democrat who took up the cause of Soviet Jewry as an elementary school student and began his career as a congressional staffer in Washington — got a little more unconventional: He called up State Rep. Dennis O’Brien, a moderate Republican from Philadelphia, and offered to make him speaker of the state’s House of Representatives.

Shocking as it was, the move was a crafty backup strategy for Pennsylvania’s Democrats, who won a razor-thin, one-seat majority in last November’s elections, but needed a way to oust conservative GOP Speaker John Perzel after several Democrats announced they would back his bid to retain the post.

In the end, Shapiro’s counter-offensive worked: Senior Democratic leaders and O’Brien, a reform-minded lawmaker, eventually bought into the idea. On January 2, O’Brien became the first legislator from the minority party to be elected speaker of the House in the history Pennsylvania’s General Assembly. The maneuver was widely understood as a defeat of the GOP leadership and a victory for Democrats, who rallied to O’Brien’s side and are working closely with him.

The success of his coup has transformed Shapiro — who represents a suburban district in Montgomery County just outside Philadelphia — from a promising sophomore legislator to an instantly seasoned veteran and one of the state’s most visible Democrats. In addition to his increasingly busy schedule in Harrisburg, Shapiro currently serves on the board of directors of Akiba Hebrew Academy in Merion Station, Pa., his high school alma mater — and the place where he met his wife, Lori.

Last week, O’Brien appointed Shapiro as co-chair of a newly formed Commission on Legislative Reform. He is “suddenly someone to watch,” wrote John Baer, a top political columnist for the Philadelphia Daily News, in an e-mail message to the Forward. His stock “skyrockets… for a second-termer in a legislature known for being run always and forever by senior members, it was an outstanding step forward.”

Even before the recent turn of events, Shapiro already had earned a reputation as a bipartisan consensus builder delivering results at home and in Harrisburg. He is one of only 24 elected officials nationwide to be selected for the prestigious Aspen Institute-Rodel Fellowship in Public Leadership program. He is the first and only Pennsylvania official to be chosen for the Rodel Fellowship and was selected because of his ability to work with both Democrats and Republicans. The two-year fellowship focuses on the ethics and responsibilities of public leadership and the study of democratic values.

The new bipartisan commission answers a clamor for reform that has not abated since the Pennsylvania legislature pushed through a dead-of-night, unpublicized pay raise in July 2005. Last November, 24 incumbents were unseated, many by challengers vowing to reform legislative practices.

Shapiro will chair the new commission along with Republican Rep. David Steil, who was among six Republicans who broke ranks to ensure O’Brien cinched the speakership, in a 105-97 vote of House members. Both Shapiro and Steil will select 11 fellow party members to round out the advisory body, which will have until mid-February to recommend changes to legislative conduct. Reportedly up for review are a number of legislative practices, including the operation of the Ethics and Rules committee, late-night voting and lawmakers’ perks, as well as wider issues such as public access to government information, term limits and election law.

“I think this is a formula for success,” Shapiro told the Forward. “This is a bipartisan government, this is going to force Democrats and Republicans to work together and this is what the public wants to see out of its government.”






Find us on Facebook!
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • Real exodus? For Mimi Minsky, it's screaming kids and demanding hubby on way down to Miami, not matzo in the desert.
  • The real heroines of Passover prep aren't even Jewish. But the holiday couldn't happen without them.
  • Is Handel’s ‘Messiah’ an anti-Semitic screed?
  • Meet the Master of the Matzo Ball.
  • Pierre Dulaine wants to do in his hometown of Jaffa what he did for kids in Manhattan: teach them to dance.
  • "The first time I met Mick Jagger, I said, 'Those are the tackiest shoes I’ve ever seen.'” Jewish music journalist Lisa Robinson remembers the glory days of rock in her new book, "There Goes Gravity."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.