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An Interview with David Shafer: His Vision for Georgia

Jason Getz / AJC

“People behave themselves for one of two reasons: love of God, or fear of punishment. There’s not much that politicians can do about the former, but the latter is in our wheelhouse.”

State Sen. David Shafer, a Republican from Duluth, Georgia, is currently seeking the office of Lieutenant Governor of Georgia. During his tenure in the Georgia State Senate, he gained attention for his work on the issue of adoption, having been adopted himself as a child, and for his zero-based budgeting law. Sen. Shafer will face former state Rep. Geoff Duncan and former state Sen. Rick Jeffares in the May 22, 2018 primary. In this May 9th interview, State Sen. Shafer discusses with Erich Prince his outlook for Georgia, including the issues of crime and gang violence, along with promoting a pro-business agenda in the state.

Senator Shafer, good afternoon. Thank you for joining us today at Merion West. I’d like to begin by discussing the powerful television commercial you have out now that talks about your adoption and how it impacted your childhood. You mention some of the efforts you made to make adoptions easier while in office, and I’m wondering if you can elaborate a bit more on your plans to continue these initiatives.

I was born fifty-three years ago in a home for unwed mothers run by the Sisters of Charity. I was adopted by Jim and Sarah Shafer when I was an infant. I’m forever grateful to them for loving me and bringing me up, and that experience is the root of my conservatism. As a state senator, I’ve worked to make adoptions more affordable and less burdensome to parents like my own and to make sure that adoptive homes are safe for the infants and the children who grow up there.

I want to ask you next about the endorsement you just picked up from former U.S. Attorney General Ed Meese. He described you as a “Reagan Republican.” He also cited your work on behalf of lower tax cuts and pro-business policies and your work in the early 1990s as an executive director of the Georgia Republican Party. I’m wondering what it means to be a “Reagan Republican” today in the age of Trump?

I believe in a limited government that is focused on securing our God-given liberties and performing its core functions. So, I’ve worked for policies to keep taxes low, to strengthen families, and to secure our basic freedoms. That’s what it means for me to be a Reagan Republican, and I was so grateful to Attorney General Meese for his encouragement of my candidacy. I have also been endorsed by Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, and Rick Santorum.

I want to ask you now about crime, which is an issue that you stress on your website. The Atlanta Journal-Consitution had out a story yesterday about gang violence in Georgia, and this is something you also mention on your website: your desire to address this issue. And according to this report, there are “more than 35,000 individual gang members throughout the state — a number the association expects to rise beyond 50,000 by the time all the data comes in.” What are the best approaches to curbing this gang problem?

Well, people behave themselves for one of two reasons: love of God, or fear of punishment. There’s not much that politicians can do about the former, but the latter is in our wheelhouse. We must have strong laws that are fairly enforced. I will tell you the root problem to gangs; I would venture to guess that virtually every member of those gangs was raised in a household without a positive male role model. The breakdown of the family is at the root of many of our societal problems, including gang violence.

Atlanta historically has struggled with some high crime rates. These rates have declined since the 1990s, like in many other parts of the country, but 2016 marked the deadliest year in nearly a decade in Atlanta, as far as homicides. What are some policies that you might favor to curb these crimes rates, particularly as Atlanta seeks to brand itself as a business-friendly city?

Part of the problem is the lack of respect that’s been shown for law enforcement. It’s encouraged lawlessness, and I think it’s contributed to the rise in both violent and property crimes. Law enforcement is primarily carried out on the local level. It has to be a priority. If an area is unsafe, those who can leave will leave.

I want to ask you about the business environment in Georgia, which is generally seen very favorably. Atlanta, of course, has been on that shortlist of twenty possible cities for  Amazon’s second headquarters, and another local publication last month did a story on eight new tech startups moving to Atlanta. I’m wondering what plans you might have, if elected lieutenant governor, to further this pro-business climate in Georgia.

I’ve wrote the state zero-based budgeting law to make sure that our tax dollars are spent as wisely and efficiently as possible. I wrote the constitutional amendment that kept the state income tax; we’re the only state in the union that has within its constitution a promise that we will forever remain a low tax environment. I have served on the budget conference committee for the last five years and helped ensure that Georgia maintained its AAA bond rating. And I’ve worked to make sure that the infrastructure needs of the state are fully funded. If you create an environment where business flourishes—that means education, infrastructure and a good legal and tax environment—you will not have any trouble at all attracting new business and the jobs that come with them.

My last question is about the environment, and you have received two awards on behalf of your environmental work. You make this interesting point about Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican president, beginning the trend of caring for the environment. President Nixon, another Republican, was very active in various environmental causes: the first Earth Day, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act, to name a few. What changes would you like to see—or maybe there are no changes needed and it’s just perception about the Republican Party— to ensure that the Republican Party in Georgia and across the country is taking up these environmental concerns that you’ve become known for championing?

Republican Teddy Roosevelt was the country’s first conservationist. In fact, hunters and sportsmen are among the best conservationists. Georgia has many natural treasures that ought to be preserved for generations to come, and I’ve been an advocate for common sense policies that protect the environment without jeopardizing jobs.

Thank you for joining us today, Senator Shafer.

Thank you for having me.