What do a nuclear engineer and a registered nurse have in common? They just got elected to Congress. At least seven people with science backgrounds won their races for seats in the United States House of Representatives in yesterday’s general election.
This year, record numbers of scientists, medical professionals, and engineers decided to run for office. In the elections for the House of Representatives, 48 of these candidates made it to the primaries, and 18 of them made it to the general election, Science magazine reports. “The results are incredibly encouraging,” says Joshua Morrow, executive director of 314 Action, a political action committee that supports scientists running for office.
Many (but certainly not all) individuals in this wave of candidate-scientists were inspired to run because they felt that science is political. For these candidates, their political ambitions were sparked in response to recent budget cuts to science programs in the federal government or because they wanted to change policies related to scientific issues, like the environment or health care.
Morrow is especially encouraged by the diverse backgrounds these newly-elected representatives bring to Congress. They’ll join a small but growing number of people already in Congress who have studied science. Scattered among the former lawyers, public servants, and businesspeople who currently make up the vast majority of current congressional representatives are a smattering of engineers, doctors, nurses, psychologists, dentists, science teachers, and one physicist. “They can actually speak to the issues with a real understanding,” Morrow says. “So maybe what we can do is we can cross this partisan line and actually work toward sensible solutions .”
The candidates with science backgrounds who won yesterday didn’t necessarily run on a science-driven platform. Some were more focused on the economy, or taxes, or other policies that concerned their constituents. Here are the people who won the chance to represent their districts in the House, and (if applicable) the science policies that drove their campaigns:
- Joe Cunningham (D-SC) — Cunningham is a former ocean engineer who became an environmental lawyer. He ran on a platform that opposed proposed offshore oil and gas drilling efforts along the Atlantic coast.
- Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) — Van Drew is a former dentist. This isn’t his first time in politics: he also served as a member of the New Jersey State Senate.
- Sean Casten (D-IL) — Casten is a former chemical engineer who was also the CEO of an energy company that used excess heat from industrial processes to generate electricity. One of the central issues of his campaign was climate change.
- Elaine Luria (D-VA) — Luria is a former Naval commander and nuclear engineer. Her platform focused, in part, on the preservation and expansion of the Affordable Care Act.
- Kevin Hern (R-OK) — Hern worked briefly as an aerospace engineer before turning to business. He now owns 10 McDonald’s restaurants. Hern’s election fills the seat vacated by Jim Bridenstine when he was appointed to lead NASA.
- Chrissy Houlahan (D-PA) — Houlahan is a former Air Force reserve veteran and industrial engineer who also spent a year teaching high school chemistry.
- Lauren Underwood (D-IL) — Underwood is a registered nurse who served as an adviser to the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration. During her campaign, she called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to be allowed to research gun violence, and she listed environmental concerns as one of her top issues.
Races where results are still being tallied:
- Kim Schrier (D-WA) — Schrier, a pediatrician, focused on health care during her campaign.
Updated November 7th, 2018 1:30PM ET: Updated with quotes from Joshua Morrow, executive director of 314 Action.