The US midterm elections saw more candidates with science backgrounds running for office than in any past election, with at least eleven earning victories, according to Nature. Some are still awaiting results in tight races. For the most part, the candidates are Democrats that saw victories in elections for the House of Representatives.
About fifty candidates ran for office, with nearly half making it past the primaries, and almost a dozen ultimately winning in the general election Tuesday.
Sean Casten is a clean-energy entrepreneur with degrees in engineering and biochemistry, who won in a previously Republican district in Chicago. Chrissy Houlahan won in Pennsylvania, with a business background as well as an engineering degree. Elaine Luria, a Navy veteran who won in Virginia, is also a nuclear engineer.
Kim Schrier, a pediatrician, is projected to win in Pennsylvania.
Representative Eddie Bernice Johnson, a Democrat from Texas and the first registered nurse in Congress, is set to lead the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. She will be the first chair of the committee with a background in STEM since the 1990s, and will replace Lamar Smith, a Republican who often sought to limit National Science Foundation grants and made efforts to limit climate change research.
In an election night statement, Johnson said she would prioritize “defending the scientific enterprise from political and ideological attacks” and “challenging misguided or harmful administration actions.”
She also acknowledged the reality of climate change and said she planned to address it as chair of the committee.
The influx of science-educated representatives is no coincidence. Many are running in response to the Trump administration’s climate denial and other skepticism toward established science. Many were supported by 314 Action, a political action committee leading what it calls “the pro-science resistance.”
As of Wednesday, the group expected victories for 8 of the 22 candidates they supported.
“We’re really excited to see what these new members of congress will be able to accomplish. As scientists they are problem-solvers,” said Shaughnessy Naughton, the committee’s president. “It’s certainty exceeded our expectations of what we would be able to do this year.”
Along with the Democrat’s broader victory in taking back control of the House, the midterms have created new checks on the power of the Trump administration.
Elizabeth Gore, the Environmental Defense Fund’s senior vice-president for political affairs, says the shift will allow for hearings to investigate the administration’s repeal of climate measures, in light of established science.
“Some of the oversight that we will see in a Democratic House will be focused on re-establishing scientific integrity and highlighting the failure of the Trump administration to use scientifically based information for policymaking,” said Gore.