Gavi Shapiro is not letting politics interfere with his principles as an Orthodox Jew while running against incumbent Deborah Silcox in the Republican primary for Georgia’s 52nd House District on May 22.
The young entrepreneur has established himself as a technology expert and, together with a few friends, started a business that provides tech support to small businesses and specializes in the computer needs of small-business owners.
He is trying to join Stone Mountain Democrat Michele Henson as the only Jewish members of the Georgia House.
Shapiro entered the race because of dissatisfaction with Silcox’s voting record, which he said includes support for a tax break for yacht owners, and her spending $100 per vote she received in the 2016 primary.
“There are plenty of people, especially veterans, who could have used the tax breaks more than people who could afford $500,000 yachts,” Shapiro said.
His frustration with bureaucrats who take money out of people’s pockets is one reason he is running. He also seeks to create a statewide school-choice system, fix transportation problems and repeal the state income tax, thus strengthening the economy, creating jobs and removing a burden from small businesses.
Shapiro said the state Education Department is wasting too much money, and parents should have the ability to choose how to educate their children. “Right now we are forcing everyone to get a cookie-cutter education, and those people who don’t fit into that fall through the cracks and are not prepared for success later in life.”
Georgia offers a tax credit to taxpayers who donate money to scholarship organizations supporting private schools, including Jewish day schools and preschools. The legislature passed House Bill 217 this spring to raise the cap on the credit from $58 million a year to $100 million; Silcox voted for the bill three times.
“I like that this program takes a step toward expanding school choice,” Shapiro said. “I would like to expand it further so that a wider variety of schools are accessible to the average Georgian family.”
To help fix the transportation system, private companies should operate public transportation, Shapiro said, and competition will motivate systems such as MARTA.
“I think when the quality of service improves, more people will be incentivized to use it,” he said. Shortly after the AJT interviewed Shapiro, the legislature passed Senate Bill 386 to establish the funding and framework for a public transportation system for all of metro Atlanta.
The 52nd District is mostly in Sandy Springs and has a large Jewish population. Shapiro is a Sandy Springs native and a member of Congregation Beth Tefillah.
Georgia in 2016 enacted a law to prevent it from contracting with entities that boycott Israel, but Shapiro said that measure, S.B. 327, was not strong enough. “I rarely suggest that we imitate New York, but they introduced far stronger versions of the bill, which I think we can pass here. Georgia won’t give state contracts to companies that boycott Israel, but the bills in New York went so far as to deny public funding to academics and student organizations which advocate Israel boycotts.”
Georgia is one of five states without a hate-crimes law, a situation H.B. 660 was designed to change this year by increasing punishments for crimes motivated by the victim’s actual or perceived race, religion, national origin, disability, gender, homeless status or sexual orientation. But the bill never moved out of committee.
Outgoing Rep. Wendell Willard (R-Sandy Springs) then attached similar language to a judiciary bill that had passed the Senate, but S.B. 373 never got a vote on the House floor.
“I don’t think it’s a good idea to make the government responsible for mindreading; that’s likely to waste a lot of time and taxpayer money without helping anyone,” Shapiro said. “Criminals always have reasons for targeting their victims, even if the reasons aren’t on that list.”
He and Silcox disagree on the hate-crimes bill and on religious liberty legislation, which supporters say would protect religious practice but which critics say would protect discrimination.
“The religious liberty legislation affirms the right of business owners not to do business in a way that conflicts with their personal values. The idea behind this is that people own their own labor and have the right to associate with whomever they please. … This is part of freedom of association,” Shapiro said. “A business owner could theoretically choose to use this freedom to discriminate without cause against many different groups of people, and that would be unfortunate, but he still has that right. His business would suffer as a consequence. But just like a person could use freedom of speech to say unkind things and they would still retain the right to free speech, freedom of association doesn’t disappear when you use it in a way that is unpopular or even unjustified.”
Shapiro said he is keeping his own religion out of his campaign. “I promised myself before going into this that I would not violate any principles,” he said. “It’s been tested numerous times, but I have not given up on any of my religious beliefs, and I don’t think that is going to change.”