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Attacks define state Senate race between Shaffer, Williams

November 30, 2018

Republican Jeremy Shaffer and Democrat Lindsey Williams have gone on the attack in their race to represent much of northern Allegheny County in Pennsylvania’s State Senate.

Republican mailings that have flooded the mailboxes of district residents have branded Williams as a radical socialist who wants to raise taxes. Democrats have accused Shaffer of breaking campaign finance rules, and one mailing claimed that he wants to cut public school funding and included a photo-shopped image of him holding a chainsaw.

“It seems they’re not afraid to go at each other,” said Kristen Coopie, an assistant teaching professor of political science at Duquesne University. “It’s really interesting the attacks that are being levied out there.”

The candidates are looking to replace incumbent state Sen. Randy Vulakovich, R-Shaler, in Harrisburg. Shaffer defeated Vulakovich by 17 percentage points in the May primary, while Williams trounced Stephanie Walsh of Highland Park by 16 points.

Their race is one of only four across the state where an incumbent isn’t on the November ballot. Incumbents are unopposed in six state Senate races and face challengers in 15. Republicans currently hold a 33-16 advantage over Democrats in the Senate.

“I think our state government is broken,” said Shaffer, 41, a Ross commissioner. “We have the largest state Legislature and the most expensive state Legislature in the country. We definitely need reform.”

Williams, 35, is mounting her first campaign for elected office. An effort in Commonwealth Court to have her removed from the ballot claiming she hasn’t lived in the district for the constitutionally required four years was thrown out Wednesday.

“I’ve been doing legislative advocacy for years on behalf of workers, fighting for working families. I’ve been advocating for more resources for students in classrooms,” she said. “I’ve been increasingly frustrated pushing for better legislation from the outside. I wanted to be able to continue the fight I’ve been doing for the last 10 years in Harrisburg.”

Coopie said the 38th State Senate District is pretty evenly split between the parties, and that should make the race close.

“It all depends on turnout,” she said.

Because neither candidate is an incumbent, both have been busy knocking on doors and meeting with voters to boost name recognition and spread their messages in the district of 255,000 people. It includes a large portion of the Alle-Kiski Valley, a small section of Pittsburgh and suburban communities in Alle­gheny County’s North Hills.

Both candidates have raised lots of money.

Shaffer’s campaign raised just more than $1 million and spent $884,442 through Oct. 22, and it had nearly $150,000 in the bank, according to state campaign finance records posted online. As of Friday night, Williams’ latest campaign finance report posted online showed she had raised $54,757 and spent $24,706 through June 4. In a news release sent out Friday afternoon, Williams said her campaign raised $740,112 between June 5 and October 22 and had more than $350,000 in the bank.

Shaffer describes himself as an entrepreneur and business executive, and said the Legislature needs to be downsized. He said he would not accept perks such as a free state car and he supports term limits.

“We need to modernize our state government. We need to hold our government accountable,” he said. “I would have no problem downsizing the Legislature and losing my job.”

Shaffer said claims that he would cut education funding are lies.

“I highly value education. I am not in favor of cuts in education spending,” he said. “I fully support maintaining funding on public schools.”

Williams, a licensed attorney, said she is an advocate for workers’ rights and public education is a top priority.

“There’s a lot of work to be done in terms of investing more in our public education and addressing issues with unaccountable charter schools draining money from the system,” she said. “There’s a lot of work to be done in that area to improve what our kids see every day.”

Williams said she joined the Democratic Socialists of America as she sought their local chapter’s endorsement in the Democratic primary. She didn’t receive it.

“I’m a Democrat. I’ve been a registered Democrat since I turned 18. I’ve voted in every primary, special and general election,” Williams said regarding claims that she’s a socialist. “I identify as a workers’ rights advocate. That’s what I want to do in Harrisburg.”

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