Despite a government shutdown, the 116th Congress is now underway in Washington. A record number of women are in the ranks – 127, according to Rutgers Center for American Women and Politics. They include the first Muslim women, the first Somali-American, and the first Native American women.
There are more scientists too.
Last November, 10 new science-credentialed candidates were elected: one senator and nine members of the House.
The scientifically-inclined members of the 115th Congress included one physicist, one microbiologist, and one chemist, as well as eight engineers and one mathematician. The medical professions were slightly better represented, with three nurses and 15 doctors, as well as at least three veterinarians.
These new lawmakers will bolster those science ranks. The Democratic candidates who won all ran successful campaigns with the support of a nonprofit political action committee called 314 Action, which started in 2016 and is dedicated to recruiting, training, and funding scientists and healthcare workers who want to run for political office. (A Republican engineer turned businessman won a race in Oklahoma, and a Republican doctor won a race in Pennsylvania, though neither received support from the PAC.)
“Scientists are essentially problem-solvers,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the president of 314 Action, told Business Insider before the election results came in.
Since Congress often wrestles with complex issues like climate change, cybersecurity, and how to provide fairer, cheaper healthcare, Naughton said she thought the US should put more scientists into the decision-making body.
“Who better to be tackling these issues than scientists?” she said.
Here’s what to know about the new scientists on the Hill.
Jacky Rosen, a computer programmer who positioned herself as a moderate Democrat, beat her Republican opponent, Dean Heller, in the US Senate race in Nevada.
Rosen, who two years ago was elected to represent Nevada’s 3rd District in the House, touted her role in the construction of a large solar array in a Las Vegas suburb that she said lowered her synagogue’s energy bill by 70%.
During the campaign, she criticized Heller for his deciding vote on a law letting internet service providers sell consumer data without their permission. Despite initially opposing efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, Heller also changed his stance on the healthcare law and supported a Republican replacement plan.
Nevada’s turnout was enormous, with twice as many early voters as there were in the 2014 midterm elections.
Chrissy Houlahan, an industrial engineer, Democrat, and Air Force veteran, won the House seat in Pennsylvania’s 6th District.
Houlahan, who said she would focus on making healthcare more affordable, defeated her Republican challenger, Greg McCauley, a tax lawyer who has owned 20 Wendy’s franchises, after Rep. Ryan Costello decided not to seek reelection.
Houlahan is one of several women who will represent states that currently have no women in the House. She will be the 6th District’s first Democratic representative since 2003.
In South Carolina’s 1st District, which has been red since 1981, Joe Cunningham, an ocean scientist, defeated the Republican hopeful Katie Arrington.
Cunningham, who is also a lawyer, sparred with Arrington throughout the campaign over the future of offshore drilling. His expertise in this area won over the Republican mayors of the coastal cities of Folly Beach and Isle of Palms.
Arrington, who has served in South Carolina’s House of Representatives, does not oppose offshore drilling. She emphasized national issues such as immigration and President Donald Trump’s proposed wall along the US-Mexico border, while Cunningham focused on local issues.
Cunningham won the race by 4,036 votes, a margin of 1.4 percentage points. An outcome with a margin of 1 percentage point or less would have triggered an automatic recount.
Sean Casten, a biochemical engineer, defeated Rep. Peter Roskam, the Republican incumbent, in Illinois’ 6th District.
Casten, who founded a waste-energy recovery company with his father, was victorious in a district that had been a Republican stronghold since 1970.
During his campaign, Casten frequently criticized Trump and focused on healthcare, climate change, gun control, and LGBTQ rights.
Elaine Luria, a nuclear engineer, won her House seat in Virginia, becoming the first Democrat since 2008 to represent the 2nd District.
Luria, who joined the US Navy when she was 17, spent 20 years operating nuclear reactors as an engineer and Navy commander. She defeated Rep. Scott Taylor on Tuesday after focusing her campaign on expanding the Affordable Care Act, pushing for tighter gun laws, and increasing the minimum wage.
Taylor, a former Navy Seal, was seeking his second term in Congress. In September, The Virginian-Pilot reported that Taylor was subpoenaed to testify in a lawsuit alleging that some of his campaign staff members circulated fraudulent petitions to help get an independent candidate on the district’s ballot.
In Washington state, Kim Schrier, a pediatrician, defeated former state Sen. Dino Rossi to become the 8th District’s first Democratic representative.
Since the 8th District was created in 1983, only three Republicans have been elected to represent it. The 8th District’s 2018 midterm election was the most expensive House race in Washington state history.
Schrier, who started her medical practice more than 15 years ago, will become the first female doctor in Congress.
In Illinois’ 14th District, Lauren Underwood, a registered nurse, unseated Randy Hultgren, the four-term Republican incumbent.
Underwood was a senior adviser at the Department of Health and Human Services under President Barack Obama. In the role, she focused on preventing and responding to bioterrorism threats, public-health emergencies, and other disasters.
This year, Underwood focused her campaign on expanding access to healthcare, noting that she has a preexisting condition: an irregular heart rhythm.
She will be the first black woman to represent the 14th District, which is about 86% white.
One of the two new Republican scientists in Congress is Kevin Hern, a former aerospace engineer and businessman who handily beat his Democratic challenger, Tim Gilpin, in Oklahoma’s 1st District, which includes Tulsa.
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Hern’s LinkedIn page says he holds a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Arkansas Tech University.
“While moving around during his early adulthood, Kevin worked a variety of jobs including working in the Aerospace industry for Rockwell, writing computer programs to automate tasks for businesses, real estate, and even hog farming,” his campaign website says.
His dream at the time was to be an astronaut. Then the space shuttle Challenger blew up in 1986, and he pivoted to fast food.
“That was a very humbling experience,” he said in a campaign video. “I’d gone from working with Ph.D. guys to on Saturday morning cooking Egg McMuffins with a 16-year-old.”
Hern is a vocal Trump supporter who wants to expand the US-Mexico border wall and repeal the Affordable Care Act. He owns 10 McDonald’s restaurants around the Tulsa area.
In Washington, he’ll replace Rep. Jim Bridenstine, who’s now the NASA administrator.
The other new Republican scientist in Congress is John Joyce, who won more than 70% of the vote in Pennsylvania’s newly created 13th District.
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After medical school, Joyce completed residencies in both internal medicine and dermatology at Johns Hopkins Hospital. He later work at a US Navy medical center in Portsmouth, Virginia.
In an October interview with the Hanover Evening Sun, Joyce said he decided to run because he wants to help the large number of Pennsylvanians who can’t afford health insurance. Joyce added he also wants to protect Medicare and Social Security benefits.
Joyce defeated Democrat Brent Ottaway, a professor of communications at Saint Francis University.
In New Jersey’s southernmost 2nd District, Jeff Van Drew, a dentist, will replace Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo, who’s represented that part of the state since 1995 and is retiring.
Van Drew, who’s been a New Jersey state senator since 2008, has sponsored legislation to help children with dyslexia, preserve farmland, and stop offshore drilling on the coast.
He has said his biggest focus on Capitol Hill will be increasing the number of jobs in New Jersey.
All seven of the scientists endorsed by 314 Action who were up for reelection won their races. So did seven other incumbent scientists.
- Democratic Rep. Martin Heinrich of New Mexico, a mechanical engineer.
- Democratic Rep. Ami Bera, a doctor and medical-school professor who serves on the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology.
- Democratic Rep. Jerry McNerney of California, who’s also on the House committee.
- Democratic Rep. Raul Ruiz of California, an emergency-room doctor.
- Democratic Rep. Bill Foster of Illinois, a physicist who’s also on the House committee.
- Democratic Rep. Paul Tonko of New York, a mechanical and industrial engineer who serves on the House committee.
- Democratic Rep. Seth Moulton of Massachusetts, a physicist and Iraq War veteran.
- Democratic Rep. Brad Schneider of Illinois, an industrial engineer.
- Democratic Rep. Tony Cárdenas of California, a computer scientist.
- Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu of California, a computer scientist.
- Republican Rep. Chris Collins of New York, a mechanical engineer.
- Democratic Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon, a farmer and veterinarian.
- Republican Rep. Ralph Abraham of Louisiana, a doctor and veterinarian who’s also on the House committee.
- Republican Rep. Ted Yoho of Florida, a veterinarian.
Update: This story was originally published on November 7, 2018 and has been updated with the latest details on the 116th Congress.
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