Raymond Philip Shafer, the final governor to be elected under the Pennsylvania Constitution of 1874, was born the youngest of five children to Reverend David P. and Mina Belle Shafer on March 5, 1917, in New Castle, Lawrence County. The family moved to Meadville, Crawford County in 1933 when Rev. Shafer was appointed pastor of First Christian Church. Ray Shafer attended and graduated from public school in Meadville in 1934 where he graduated as valedictorian. He continued his education as a political science major at nearby Allegheny College where he served as class president for four years. Shafer was also an All-Pennsylvania basketball player as well as an All-American soccer player. He graduated in 1938. On July 5, 1941, Shafer married Jane Harris Davies (1916–2009), a 1939 graduate of Allegheny, whom he had met while both were attending classes at the college
Shafer attended Yale University Law School where he received the L.L. B. in 1941. Classmates at Yale included numerous individuals later associated with civic affairs, including President Gerald R. Ford, Pennsylvania Governor William W. Scranton, U.S. Secretary of State Cyrus R. Vance, and Robert Sargent Shriver Jr., the first director of the Peace Corps. Following law school, Shafer was commissioned as an ensign in the U.S. Navy, serving from 1942 to 1945 as a P.T. boat captain and working in Naval intelligence. He later earned the rank of full lieutenant and received the Purple Heart, Bronze Star, and the Commendation for Meritorious Service.
Following World War II Shafer went into law practice in Meadville and was elected as Crawford County District Attorney serving from 1948 to 1956. In 1958, he won election to represent Pennsylvania’s 50th State Senatorial District and served in the General Assembly of Pennsylvania from 1959 to 1963. In the spring of 1962, Shafer agreed to run as lieutenant governor with William W. Scranton of Lackawanna County. Aligned with the progressive wing of the Republican Party, Scranton and Shafer defeated Philadelphia Mayor Richardson Dilworth by 486,000 votes and took office in January 1963.
In the spring 1966 primary, Republicans supported Raymond Shafer for governor and the Commonwealth’s Attorney General, Walter E. Alessandroni for lieutenant governor. When Alessandroni was killed in a tragic plane crash before the election, Philadelphian Raymond J. Broderick—a lawyer and prominent regional Republican—filled out the ticket. Shafer and Broderick ran against Philadelphia millionaire Milton J. Shapp who secured the primary by defeating Democratic nominee Robert P. Casey of Lackawanna County. Despite Shapp’s aggressive campaign, Shafer, trumpeting the Scranton-Shafer record, won the general election by 241,630 votes. The Republican Party maintained small majorities in both the state Senate and House of Representatives.
Shafer’s administration is perhaps best known for reforms that were made to the Commonwealth’s antiquated 1874 constitution. Another major theme of his four-year term was state government reorganization to better accommodate programs and policies that reflected the needs and demands of the times. Growth in state programs and spending for education and welfare also dominated most of Shafer’s tenure.
Shafer had campaigned on revising the Commonwealth’s constitution. In the spring of 1967, he signed an act authorizing a May 16 ballot referendum, placing nine issues before the electorate. These included permitting a governor to serve two four-year terms instead of one; making the secretary of internal affairs a gubernatorial appointment rather than an elected post; making General Assembly sessions a full two-years; repealing outdated constitutional provisions affecting railroads and canals; and calling a constitutional convention to address reforms that could not otherwise pass the legislature. Each measure was approved by the electorate; in some cases by margins of 400,000 votes.
A bi-partisan constitutional convention convened in December 1967 and completed its work by late February 1968. Once again reforms were placed before the electorate to allow political subdivisions to elect home-rule; raise the ceiling on state borrowing; subject all state financial affairs to audits; mandate that the governor annually develop and submit a spending plan for state programs; establish new tax rules, particularly for real estate and public utilities; and create a unified judicial system under the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania. Though the revisions were criticized for not doing enough to reform state government—such as reducing the size of the General Assembly—they won majority approval by voters in April 1968.
Besides constitutional revisions, state government was reorganized to more acutely address issues prevalent in the late 1960s. In 1970, Shafer signed Act 275 to create the Department of Environmental Resources. The agency’s functions included environmental and natural resource protection, in addition to land, water, state park, and state forest management, and mining regulation. The Commonwealth also invested in programs to clean streams of acid mine drainage, long a problem left over from a largely bygone era and industry.
Shafer signed Act 120 of 1970 to consolidate state-run transportation functions housed in four separate agencies into the new Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT). PennDOT was given responsibility to develop and maintain a safe, adequate, and efficient transportation infrastructure. Its creation coincided with the near completion of Pennsylvania’s portion of the nation’s interstate highway system. By the end of Shafer’s term about 85 percent of the interstate system was open to traffic across the state, including Interstates 80, 81, and 79, a section of which is named the Raymond P. Shafer Highway. Shafer also authorized an equal employment opportunity initiative to eliminate discrimination among highway construction contractors.
With some reluctance, on July 23, 1970 Shafer signed Act 195 making Pennsylvania the first state in the nation to permit its public employees to bargain collectively, join a union, and strike. Act 195 superseded a 1947 statute that prohibited such activities. The law resulted from a study by the Public Employee Law Commission—known also as the Hickman Commission—that recommended numerous changes in the relationship between public sector employees and employers.
Other initiatives of Shafer’s term included creation of the Pennsylvania Crime Commission as a unit of the state Department of Justice and enactment of the Corrupt Organizations Act to prohibit individuals associated with organized crime from investing in Pennsylvania businesses. Shafer also enhanced the Commonwealth’s role in the oversight of nursing homes—a growing business—by requiring the licensure of administrators. Amendments to the enabling legislation for the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission expanded its duties to police any discrimination in housing, education, and employment. Finally Shafer led trade missions to Europe, the Far East and South America.
Shafer’s popularity waned in the closing years of his term. In the election of 1968 his influence in the General Assembly was diminished when the House turned decidedly Democratic. For fiscal year, 1969–1970 Shafer proposed a record $2.5 billion state budget, up from $1.9 billion the previous year. Most of the increased state spending was for education and human services, including basic education, for which state spending grew by 71 percent during his term; higher education by 47 percent; and public assistance by 187 percent. To pay for the growth Shafer proposed a state income tax that won little public or legislative support. Instead, Shafer reluctantly increased the sales tax to 6 percent. His proposal to merge state health and human service agencies was voted down as well.
On the national scene Shafer was appointed vice-chair of the Republican Governor’s Association in 1969. He assumed the chair from California’s governor Ronald Reagan in 1970. He was the last governor of Pennsylvania who was ineligible for two consecutive terms. The election of 1970 pitted Shafer’s lieutenant governor, Raymond Broderick, against their 1966 rival, Milton J. Shapp. Though Republicans were united in the primary and general election, skepticism regarding Shafer’s proposed income tax, an insolvent state budget, and other factors eased Shapp into office by nearly a half-million votes. In addition, the Commonwealth’s House of Representative and Senate became firmly Democratic for the first time since 1936.
Shafer continued in public service after leaving Harrisburg. In 1971, President Nixon appointed him chair of the National Commission on Marijuana and Drug Abuse, also known as the Shafer Commission, that issued reports in 1972 and 1973. He continued to speak on drug issues for several years afterward. From 1974 to 1977, he served as counselor to Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, for whom he had given the nominating speech for president in the 1968 Republican National Convention. Richard M. Nixon was selected for the nomination instead; Rockefeller was appointed Vice President in 1974 by Gerald Ford after President Nixon's resignation.
Shafer was elected to the Board of Trustees of Allegheny College in 1964 and served briefly as its president from 1985 to 1986. The auditorium at Allegheny College is named after the former governor as are residence halls at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Edinboro University. Shafer also maintained a legal practice in Meadville and was associated with the accounting firm of Coopers & Lynbrand. Shafer died December 12, 2006 and was buried with military honors in Saint Johns Cemetery, Union Township, Crawford County.