One of science and technology’s champions in Congress, U.S. Representative Rush Holt (12th District, N.J.) announced on 19 Feb. that he would be retiring from Congress at year end and would not seek re-election.
In an open letter to his constituents, Holt explained ï¿½I want to let you know that this will be my last term serving you in the U.S. House of Representatives. For many reasons, all hopeful and positive, I feel that at the end of the year it will be time to step aside and ask you to choose your next representative.ï¿½
Holt is currently serving as a member of the House Education and Workforce Committee and the Committee on Natural Resources, where his focus has been on promoting national energy strategies to reduce the nation’s dependence on fossil fuels and protect the environment for future generations. From 2007-2010, he chaired the Select Intelligence Oversight Panel.
Along with Rep. Judy Biggert (R-Ill.), Holt founded the Congressional Research Caucus (https://www.researchcaucus.org/) in 2008, and currently serves as its co-chair. The Caucus brings together like-minded Members of Congress and was created to highlight the national importance of research and to increase the awareness of Members of Congress and congressional staff on issues related to research. IEEE-USA co-chairs the Advisory Committee to the Caucus and works with ASME and other scientific and engineering societies to bring speakers and briefings on behalf of the Caucus to Congress on emerging technology issues.
Among his many and varied legislative contributions, Holt co-sponsored and helped champion passage of the America COMPETES Act in the House, which authorized more than $20 billion in federal support for S&T. He served on the National Commission on Mathematics and Science Teaching for the 21st Century chaired by former Senator and astronaut John Glenn, and helped draft the landmark College Cost Reduction and Access Act, whose provisions included expanded tuition support for future science and math teachers.
More recently, Holt emphasized to his colleagues within Congress the importance of continuing federal support for participation of government scientists and engineers in professional conferences and meetings.
For years, Holt fought unsuccessfully to reestablish the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA), a congressional agency whose purpose was to provide Congress with objective and authoritative analysis of the complex scientific and technical issues of the late 20th century. OTA was defunded in 1995 as part of House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s ï¿½Contract with Americaï¿½ to reduce federal waste.
A nuclear physicist by training, Rep. Holt earned his B.A. in Physics from Carleton College in Minnesota and completed his Master’s and Ph.D. at NYU. He taught at Swarthmore College and then went on to head the Nuclear and Scientific Division in the Office of Strategic Forces at the U.S. Department of State, where he helped monitor foreign nuclear programs. In 1989, he accepted an appointment as Assistant Director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory at Princeton University.
Holt first came to national attention as a five-time ï¿½Jeopardy!ï¿½ champion, and later earned notoriety for beating Watson, IBM’s computer, in a simulated round of Jeopardy at a national innovation event.
Holt’s political roots run deep. At age 29, his father, Rush D. Holt, Sr., was the youngest person elected to the United States Congress, serving West Virginia as its Senator from 1935-1941. His mother, Helen Louise Holt, was the first women to serve as West Virginia’s Secretary of State. While teaching at Swarthmore, the younger Holt spent a year as a Congressional Fellow to U.S. Representative Bob Edgar of Pennsylvania. After an unsuccessful run for Congress in 1986, Holt was elected in 1988 and has served since. In 2013, he ran unsuccessfully for the Senate seat vacated by the death of U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg.
Holt’s departure will leave only one other physicist in Congress, Rep. Bill Foster (Ill.), who offered the following on Holt’s announcement:
I was saddened to hear of the retirement of my friend and colleague Congressman Rush Holt. His thoughtful and rational approach to the legislative process will be deeply missed.
While I am proud to carry the torch for physicists in Congress, it is clear that we need more scientists in public office. Too much of our Congress is made up of lawyers and career politicians who are trained in the art of arguing, but not in problem solving or analyzing data to develop commonsense solutions. While no one can match him, as Watson knows, we need more Representatives like Rush Holt to bring a voice for science and reason to Congress.
Electrical Engineers in Congress
Of the 535 voting Members of the 113th United States Congress, more than two dozen have earned degrees or worked in a medical, scientific or technology field, including one licensed professional engineer ï¿½ Rep. Joe Barton of Texas.
There are currently four U.S. Representatives who hold degrees in electrical engineering or who have actively practiced in the field:
Rep. Tony Crdenas (D-Calif.) represents California’s San Fernando Valley. Crdenas earned his degree in electrical engineering from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 1986. After ten years working in the private sector, he opted to run for public office, serving as a Member of the California State Assembly (1996-2002) and the Los Angeles City Council (2003-2010) before his election to the U.S. Congress in 2012. Crdenas serves on the House Committees on Oversight, Budget, and Natural Resources.
Rep. Thomas Massie (R-Ky.) represents northern Kentucky. Massie earned his B.S. in electrical engineering and a Masters in mechanical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. While in school, he invented a technology that enabled people to interact with computers using their sense of touch. After graduation, he leveraged his invention to found SensAble Technologies, which has applied the hardware and software he developed to design automobiles, jewelry, shoes, dental prosthetics and reconstructive implants. After selling the company, Massie moved back to his hometown in Lewis County, Kentucky, where he ran a small farm and got involved in local politics. He was elected Judge Executive of Lewis County in 2010 and resigned the office in 2012 to run for the U.S. House of Representatives. Massie’s current committee assignments include service on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Rep. Jerry McNerney (D-Calif.) has represented California’s 9th District (San Joaquin County) since 2007. McNerney holds a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of New Mexico. During his technical career, he worked for Sandia National Laboratory before taking a senior engineering position with U.S. Windpower (Kenetech), and later working as a consultant to PG&E, Flowind, EPRI, and various utility companies and publishing in IEEE journals on energy conversion. He launched his own successful wind turbine start-up in 2004. McNerney decided to run for Congress after 9/11 and is now serving in his fourth term. A strong proponent of renewable energy, McNerney serves on the House Energy & Commerce Committee.
Rep. Daniel Webster (R-Fl.) represents Florida’s 10th District, covering Orlando and central Florida. Webster earned his B.S. in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology, before returning to help run his family’s air conditioning and heating business in Florida. He ran successfully for a seat in the Florida House of Representatives in 1980, and rose through the leadership ranks to become the first Republican Speaker of the House in 122 years. Term limited, he left the Florida House and ran successfully for a U.S. House seat in 2010. Webster currently serves on the House Committees on Rules and on Transportation and Infrastructure.