Scientists are coming to Congress

Jacky Rosen, a former computer scientist, is now a senator-elect of Nevada.
Jacky Rosen, a former computer scientist, is now a senator-elect of Nevada.
Image: AP Photo/John Locher
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As of Wednesday afternoon (Nov. 7, 4:45pm eastern time) seven candidates with science degrees have won seats in US Congress. An eighth candidate, Kim Schrier, a pediatrician running for Washington’s eighth district, is six percentage points ahead of her Republican opponent Dino Rossi as votes are still being counted.

These eight candidates were part of a class of Americans with some training in science who attempted to fill seats in US House of Representatives and Senate in the midterm elections, bolstered by the 314 Action Fund, a political organizing group founded by a chemist with the express goal of putting more scientists in office. It takes its name from the number pi.

But the wins for science don’t stop at these fresh faces. Now that Democrats have gained a majority in the House, the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology will flip too: As Rebecca Leber at Mother Jones points out, that crucial committee has been run by Republican science deniers since 2011.

The next chair of that committee will likely be Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Texas Democrat who has served in the House since 1993 and former chief psychiatric nurse at the Dallas Veterans Administration Hospital in Texas. That would mark the first time in 28 years that a person with an actual science degree has held that position, Washington Post reporter Sarah Kaplan notes.

In any case, without further ado, here are the scientists and STEM-degree politicians who won federal seats last night. Of the seven (or eight!) who won, six (or seven!) won House seats and one (Jacky Rosen) won a coveted Senate seat:

The veteran engineer with a mind for business: Chrissy Houlahan

Won in: Pennsylvania’s sixth district with 58.8% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Ryan Costello, who had a poor record on environmental issues, but was one of just a few Republican congressmen to fight back against former Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt’s proposed rule to limit the use of science in the agency’s decision-making processes.

Scientific background: Houlahan, 50, holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from Stanford University and a master’s degree in technology policy from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has also served in the Air Force, working on electronic communication systems.

Political background: This was Houlahan’s first campaign. In addition to her military service, she has worked as a high-school chemistry teacher and served in executive roles for retail company AND1 Basketball; Springboard Collaborative, a non-profit group focused on literacy; and B-lab, a non-profit that certifies for-profit companies’ transparency and accountability.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Healthcare is a top priority for Houlahan. She wants to expand the Affordable Care Act, lower drug costs, and augment paid family and medical leave. She also pledges to improve public schools and protect the environment.

The dentist and prior state senator: Jeff van Drew

Won in: New Jersey second district with 52.2% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Republican Frank LoBiondo, who was retiring this year. He beat out Republican opponent Seth Grossman who self-identified as a “MAGA candidate” and recently shared a racist post on Facebook.

Scientific background: Van Drew, 65, holds a doctor of dental medicine degree from Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey.

Political experience: Van Drew has spent three terms as a New Jersey state senator. Although he has strong backing from the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, critics within the party have noted that he has taken money from the National Rifle Association and voted against some environmental-protection laws and gay marriage in the past.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Van Drew promises to make college more affordable and pay equal among men and women. He also wants to see stronger border security and legal action against those who employ undocumented immigrants. He wants to reform the Affordable Care Act and lower prescription drug prices, uphold net neutrality and prevent offshore drilling off the coast of New Jersey.

The registered nurse and health policy expert: Lauren Underwood

Won in: Illinois’ 14th district with 51.9% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Randy Hultgren, a conservative Republican who campaigned with Trump, and has advocated for repealing the Affordable Care Act and pulling out of the Paris agreement on climate change.

Scientific background: Underwood, 32, is a registered nurse with a master’s degree in health policy.

Political experience: Underwood, a first-time candidate, previously worked for the US Department of Health and Human Services under President Obama.

Noteworthy stances on issues: She’s big on affordable healthcare; Underwood is a nurse, and says she has intimate knowledge of what it means to be unable to afford healthcare in the US. As a child, she was treated for a pediatric heart condition, “so it’s personal, too,” Underwood told Science magazine. She’s also pro-reproductive rights, emphasizes the importance of strong environmental protections, and is an advocate for more investment in renewable energy—which was likely to go over well in her district, which is adjacent to two US Department of Energy labs, the Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory and Argonne National Laboratory.

🚨Race pending 🚨 The ticked-off pediatrician: Kim Schrier

Pending in: Washington’s eighth district. As of writing, Schrier has 52.9% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Would replace: Republican Dave Reichert, who voted for a 2017 bill that would slash healthcare for thousands of residents in his district. Schrier credits that vote as her reason for deciding to run for Reichert’s seat. Reichert stepped down before the race, so Schrier ran against Republican challenger Dino Rossi.

Scientific background: Schrier is a pediatrician with a medical degree from the University of California-Davis and a bachelor’s degree in astrophysics from the University of California-Berkeley.

Political background: Schrier decided to run for office after Reichert’s vote to slash healthcare in her district. “I was ticked off. Frankly, if Congress was doing its job, I would not have to run for office. I would be back holding little babies. But times have changed,” she told campaign volunteers earlier this year.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Schrier is a pediatrician and herself has type 1 diabetes, and healthcare is a big issue for her. Schrier wants to expand the the Affordable Care Act, lower prescription drug costs, and develop programs to combat the opioid epidemic. She also wants to implement programs that would increase vaccination rates and supports background checks for all gun owners that would prohibit anyone with a history of domestic violence, stalking, violent criminal records, or severe mental illness from owning guns.

The outspoken chemical engineer: Sean Casten

Won in: Illinois’ sixth district with 52.8% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Peter Roskam, a Republican incumbent who held the seat for 12 years. In May of this year, he joined the “Climate Solutions Caucus,” but has in the past called climate science “junk science” and voted against a tax on carbon emissions because they “would be detrimental to American families and businesses.”

Scientific background: Casten holds masters degrees in engineering management and biochemical engineering from Dartmouth University in New Hampshire, and undergraduate degrees in molecular biology and biochemistry from Middlebury College in Vermont. In 2007 he founded Recycled Energy Development, LLC, which aimed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions by trapping and reusing energy, like heat, from industrial facilities.

Political experience: Casten is a first-time candidate, and doesn’t mince words. He called the GOP “the pedophile party” after some members endorsed Roy Moore in Alabama’s special election for a senate seat previously occupied by Jeff Sessions in 2017; GOP donors “morons;” and the first permanent English-speaking settlement in North America “horrible people” who “did not assimilate” and “were vectors of disease.”

Noteworthy stances on issues: Casten has a thorough platform on energy and environmental policy, and wants to enact laws that would lower carbon emissions while incentivizing clean-energy innovation for economic gains. He also wants to expand the Affordable Care Act to universal health care, repeal Republican tax laws, and reform student debt to allow people to refinance their loans at lower rates.

The Navy commander and nuclear engineer: Elaine Luria

Won in: Virginia’s second district with 50.1% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Scott Taylor, the incumbent Republican. Although Taylor believes in climate change, he believes humans aren’t entirely responsible for it. He opposed the Paris climate accord on the grounds that he felt it should have been a treaty, which would need Senate approval, because of the costs it put on the US.

Scientific background: Luria has a master’s degree in engineering management, and was one of the first women to attend the US Naval Nuclear Power School, according to her website. She spent 20 years in the Navy and was deployed six times. On the USS Enterprise, Luria was in charge of eight nuclear reactors, and for training the 700 nuclear operators onboard.

Political experience: First-time candidate.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Affordable healthcare, funding for education, and equal pay are at the top of Luria’s list. She is also an advocate for gun reform, and wants to repeal the Dickey Amendment, which currently prohibits the US Centers for Disease Control from studying gun violence. She is also an advocate for more robust military and veterans’ services—her district has one of the highest concentrations of military personnel in the country.

The ocean engineer-turned-environmental lawyer: Joe Cunningham

Won in: South Carolina’s first district, with 50.7% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces:  Cunningham ran against Republican Katie Arrington, who beat out her party’s incumbent Mark Sanford in the primary. Sanford joined the Climate Solutions Caucus earlier this year, but had previously voted to nullify the Obama-era Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Power Plan.

Scientific background: Environmental attorney, formerly an ocean engineer. He has a bachelor’s of science in ocean engineering and a law degree.

Political experience: First-time candidate.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Cunningham opposes offshore drilling, and is keen to support renewable energy projects and other efforts to curb climate change. “I believe climate change is the single greatest non-military threat to our nation—especially living in a coastal region, where we see the impacts of rising sea levels and harsh storm systems firsthand,” he says on his campaign website.

The new computer scientist in the Senate: Jacky Rosen

Won in: Nevada, with 50.4% of the vote.

Party: Democrat

Replaces: Senator Dean Heller, a Republican. Heller denies that climate change is real, and that humans are a substantial cause of it.

Scientific background: Rosen has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and an associates’ degree in computer science, and worked as a computer programmer.

Political experience: Rosen won her first election in 2017, becoming a member of the House representing Nevada’s 3rd district, which includes Las Vegas. Her Senate run was endorsed by former US vice president Joe Biden.

Noteworthy stances on issues: Rosen advocates for lower interest rates on student loans, as well as an assault weapons ban. She supports expanding renewable energy for the state, and protecting Nevada’s public lands. Rosen also supports the Affordable Care Act, particularly for its coverage of people with preexisting conditions.