Former U.S. Rep. Bud Shuster, a one-time pillar of both Pennsylvania politics and American transportation policy — and my first boss on arriving in Washington — died this week.
The boss was 91, had suffered a recent fall that broke a hip, and passed peacefully surrounded by family at his farm in Everett, Pennsylvania. The legacy he leaves behind with children Peg, Bill, Deb, Bob, and Gia plus grandchildren is history incarnate.
In 1971, as a sophomore at Franklin and Marshall College in Lancaster, I precociously made up my mind to run for a delegate seat in the 1972 Republican National Convention, which would be held the following year. In Pennsylvania, delegates to the GOP convention are elected by congressional district.
In the fall of 1971, the Pennsylvania State Senate was hard at work with the decennial task of drawing the lines for those congressional districts. It is a process — reapportionment — that, of course, depends on the results of the latest census. The results of which for ages has become a procedure that in Pennsylvania (as with other northeastern states) usually translates into a loss of population and therefore a loss of congressional seats. Which in turns means Pennsylvania legislators must agree on the drawing of lines that produce different or even new previously nonexistent districts.
So on one late night, Pennsylvania’s senior legislators in both the House and Senate were hard at work in the wee hours, standing around a large table in the Library of the Senate, with pencils in hand, reimagining how the new map of congressional districts could be drawn to reflect the latest loss of a couple of seats courtesy of departing Pennsylvanians.
My elderly state senator, George Wade (now a bridge crossing the Susquehanna River), kindly responded to my eager youthful enthusiasm by inviting me in to watch the process. Before a horrified staffer politely suggested that I should not be there and ushered me out, I observed Harrisburg insider politics at its most typical. A brand new district in Central Pennsylvania — the 9th — was created for the very powerful and longtime Republican state Sen. Elmer Hawbaker.
Sen. Hawbaker had been first elected to the Senate in 1961, and, in the ensuing years, had become one very powerful guy. So, in a tip of the hat from his equally powerful colleagues, the 9th district was specifically designed for him.
Bursting onto the scene in the 1972 Republican primary came a completely unknown and decidedly successful, energetic young businessman named Bud Shuster. Bud had the typical Horatio Alger–style background of starting with very little and working his way to being a vice president at the electronics company RCA. He then started his own highly successful computer business. Meticulous to a fault, Bud applied his business and organizing skills to the campaign — and, catching the overconfident Hawbaker by complete surprise — upended the powerful state senator and won the primary. Which, in 1972, was tantamount to winning the general election.
He would go on to win 15 terms and serve 30 years. Bud was assigned to what was then called the Public Works and Transportation Committee — now the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. From his 1972 election until the Gingrich Revolution in 1994, Democrats controlled the House, so as Bud rose through the committee ranks, he was always in the minority.
Yet eventually he became the ranking member — and a seriously powerful one he was. And when the GOP took control of the House for the first time since 1954, Bud Shuster was now Chairman Shuster.
And what a chairman he became. The current committee chairman, Rep. Sam Graves (R-MO), has issued a statement saying this of his now iconic predecessor:
Chairman Bud Shuster truly is a legend. He was a masterful legislator and one of Congress’ most effective advocates for America’s transportation and infrastructure. His knowledge of the issues, skill at building coalitions on Capitol Hill, and ability to work across the aisle to find common ground continues to set the bipartisan tone for this Committee. When T&I succeeds, it’s because we are following a roadmap of accomplishment that he provided.
Chairman Shuster was a force, and our Nation’s highways, aviation system, ports and waterways, rail network, water systems, and more all benefited from his ability to bring together Members of Congress from across the political spectrum in support of infrastructure. More importantly, communities across the country and our economy were also strengthened by his leadership and achievements on these issues.
And, of course, central Pennsylvanians are more than aware of the countless transportation projects he made sure got funded — particularly including Interstate 99, which runs up through the middle of the state. So appreciative of this was then-Gov. Bob Casey Sr. (a Democrat) that Casey made a point of naming the route the “Bud Shuster Highway.”
Brooks Smith, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals jurist who was a longtime Shuster friend, as well as a native of his district, told the Altoona Mirror that:
Bud Shuster was a dynamo. When I was a very young guy working as a newsman for WRTA Radio, I watched Bud arrive on the political scene. He brought not only youthful energy but business experience and a strong desire to advance our area’s economic interests.
And advance them he did. The modern highways of our area had been denied for so many years and were made possible because of Bud’s leadership and his influence with his congressional colleagues.
One of the GOP “reforms” that was instituted upon their taking control of the House was that committee chairmen must be limited to serving in their role for six years. When that moment arrived for Bud Shuster, he made the decision to go out on top, resigning his seat in February of 2001 shortly after being sworn in for his 15th term.
And then? His successor, quickly elected to replace him, was his son Bill Shuster. And just like Dad, son Bill signed up for the Public Works and Transportation Committee, and also like Dad, he patiently waited before himself becoming chairman.
Along the way, Bud found time to write books, his love of writing was something he shared and I took to. Out came his books, the first of which, Believing in America, was a tribute to the ideal of the America he loved and which had been so good to him, the place “where dreams can still come true.”
The book’s success encouraged him to keep going with his writing, with a mix of fiction and nonfiction pouring forth, his last notably titled Making the Most of Your Life: A Love Letter to My Grandchildren, which, as noted on Amazon, “describes how Bud Shuster rose from the bleakest of times to become a successful computer industry entrepreneur, United States Congressman, and the creator of an enduring legacy for his family.”
On a personal note, I could not be more grateful for the role Bud Shuster played in my own life. As a young staffer in the Pennsylvania State Senate, I crossed paths with him and his seriously dynamic chief of staff Ann Eppard during the 1976 presidential campaign as we all crisscrossed the state in the Gerald Ford versus Jimmy Carter showdown. In early 1978, he had an opening on his staff for a press secretary, and thanks to another friend, the ex-chief-of-staff for the then-just-retired Pennsylvania U.S. Sen. Hugh Scott (Martin Hamberger by name), I got the job offer.
To Washington I went, working my way up the Shuster staff layers as press secretary, then legislative director, and finally as his staff member on the all-important House Budget Committee. Not only were countless adventures had in both the House and in the larger world of Pennsylvania and national Republican politics, but I was patiently tutored on how to focus and how to be mentally disciplined. I was willing to work long hours into the night to “get the job done.” And details, details, details!
All that I learned from Bud Shuster and his chief-of-staff Ann Eppard would guide me as I received an offer to work for Pennsylvania’s senior Sen. John Heinz, then, in 1984, for Drew Lewis, the ex-Reagan Transportation secretary and then-Reagan–Bush reelection cochair. The latter stint was followed by another invite, this one working in the White House for President Ronald Reagan, eventually closing out my government service in the Bush 41–era with Housing and Urban Development Secretary Jack Kemp — a Shuster colleague.
One never knows, but I suspect that none of the opportunities that would come my way in professional Washington and later would come my way in the world of writing and media would have arrived had I not had the privilege to work for — and learn from — Bud Shuster.
As always, time moves inexorably on. But this moment is just the moment to reflect on the life and considerable contributions of Rep. Bud Shuster.
And say thanks.