Raymond Schafer, former Pennsylvania governor dead.

posted 2006-12-13 11:25:04 by mike

HARRISBURG -- Flags around the Capitol and the state were lowered yesterday as word spread of the death of former Pennsylvania Gov. Raymond Shafer.

Mr. Shafer died yesterday at Meadville Medical Center. He was 89.

Mr. Shafer, a Republican who was governor from 1967 to 1971, was known for reforming the state constitution and overseeing a massive expansion of the state highway system.

"Ray Shafer was one of the most dedicated public servants in the commonwealth's history," Gov. Ed Rendell said.

Under the Shafer administration, legislative sessions were extended to two years, a unified judicial system was established and Pennsylvania became the first state in the union to allow public workers to unionize, according to the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

Though he was elected governor by a 250,000-vote margin, his popularity suffered when he tried to institute the first income tax to stem a growing budget crisis attributed to increases in spending on education and public assistance. Already under his administration, business taxes had increased and the sales tax rate went from 5 percent to 6 percent, making it the highest in the nation at the time.

"His problem was taxes," said George D. Wolf, Mr. Shafer's former speechwriter and a retired Penn State University professor of American studies. "He was the only Republican who had the guts to say an income tax is what we need, and that cost him Republican support. He tried to stick to his ideals and he got clobbered."

Public reaction to the income-tax proposal hurt and angered the governor, who was both thin-skinned and hot-blooded, Mr. Wolf said.

The income tax eventually was enacted under Mr. Shafer's successor, Milton Shapp.

Term limits in effect at the time had prevented Mr. Shafer from waging a re-election campaign, but he did not exit quietly from public life.

Instead, he accepted President Nixon's nomination to chair the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, which became known as the Shafer Commission. The commission's controversial 1972 report urged the legalization of possession and distribution of marijuana in small quantities.

The president dismissed the report without following any of its recommendations. After Mr. Nixon's resignation, Mr. Shafer served as counsel to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller.

Friends like Mr. Wolf will long remember the former governor as an outgoing, ambitious idealist who always wanted to be well-liked. His reputation for trying to do the right thing was so strong that people in the Capitol took to calling him "Dudley Do-Right," after the cartoon character with a penchant for doing the wrong thing but for the right reason.

"He always wanted to do well for Pennsylvania," Mr. Wolf said.

Before entering politics, Mr. Shafer was a commissioned naval officer who served as a PT boat captain during World War II. He received the Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.

He received his law degree from Yale University and was a lawyer and district attorney in Crawford County. He became a state senator in 1959, William W. Scranton's lieutenant governor in 1963 and governor in 1967.

He was born in New Castle in 1917 and moved to Meadville with his family in 1933.

Visitation will be Saturday from 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 p.m. at Robert W. Waid Funeral Home, 581 Chestnut St., Meadville.

Services are planned for 1:30 p.m. Sunday at Ford Chapel, Allegheny College. Burial, with military honors, will be in St. John's Cemetery, Union Township, Crawford County.

Allegheny College, where Mr. Shafer was a longtime trustee, has set up a memorial Web site at shafer.allegheny.edu.