Last month, Rep. Rush Holt shocked the 12th congressional district of New Jersey with his announcement that he would not seek reelection. His decisions saddened many in the district, as he has worked for his 15-year tenure as a tireless advocate for reason and rationality in policymaking. In a district which has for years favored the Democratic incumbent by heavy margins, Holt’s announcement threw the congressional race wide open, as four Democrats and one Republican rushed to fill his seat. Because the district votes so heavily Democrat, the upcoming Democratic primary on June 3 will be just as if not more important than the general election between the primary winner and Republican candidate Alieta Eck. Among the Democratic candidates are Assemblyman Upendra Chivukula, Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson Coleman, State Senator Linda Greenstein and Dr. Andrew Zwicker, a research physicist and science educator from the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. Though each of these candidates has a strong record of leadership, Dr. Zwicker stands out as a successor loyal to the leadership this district has seen in Holt. Beyond the obvious similarities in the two researchers’ backgrounds, Dr. Zwicker has shown himself to be a tireless advocate for science and education in particular, and more broadly, a rational and questioning approach to policy. Such a representative is just what Princeton, the 12th congressional district and the nation need.
I met Dr. Zwicker a mere week before Rep. Holt’s announcement, when he was the keynote speaker at the launch party for Innovation Magazine, a student-led research review for which I also write. There, he spoke passionately of the urgent need for scientists to communicate their research not only among themselves, but with society. As people grow closer to and more dependent on their technology and as human society faces potential existential crises from climate change to bombardment by extraterrestrial rocks, scientists must increasingly bring their knowledge to bear in the political realm. Unfortunately, the government, in the US particularly but not uniquely, is increasingly filled by those who, as Zwicker phrases it, “replace facts with values.”
In his time as a scientist and educator, Dr. Zwicker has done much to counter this trend. He realized the extent to which American highschoolers’ lives could be changed by STEM education while working with a high school summer student when he was fresh out of grad school. “I changed her life and she changed mine,” he says of his former student, now an educator in her own right. Since then, and since moving into the science education of PPPL’s work, he has pushed heavily for STEM education in schools throughout the Trenton/Philadelphia area, training hundreds of students in technological skills and, more importantly, scientific thinking and communication. In the process, he has had a hand in national policy on everything from energy efficiency in buildings to STEM training for teachers. Through it all, he has been dedicated to the local community, focusing his efforts and the millions of dollars in federal funding he has raised on schools from elementary to postsecondary throughout the 12th District.
When I spoke to him, Dr. Zwicker was realistic about the odds he faces going into the primary. Assemblywoman Watson Coleman and State Senator Greenstein come into the race with the support of their home counties (Mercer and Middlesex, respectively), and were endorsed by their respective counties’ Democratic Committees mere days after Holt announced his candidacy, and before all the candidates for the district had entered the race. Since then, the race has turned into something of a slugging match between the two women and their supporters, with tensions running high and accusations flying between the two camps. The race has come to be characterized as a “Middlesex versus Mercer/Union” battle between the county parties for influence and advancement of their chosen candidates.
Though I agree with the policy positions of Watson Coleman and Greenstein, this represents precisely the sort of status quo that Dr. Zwicker is driven to change. In our conversations, the times he spoke most freely and passionately were regarding his hopes for his time in Washington, saying that how like Newton “stood on the shoulders of giants,” he could build off Rush Holt, “prov[ing] it can be done” to lead Congress in replacing a “value-laden policy with facts.”
To overcome the odds against him, Zwicker and his campaign are running an aggressive get out the vote campaign, encouraging local college students (who rarely participate in local electoral politics) to vote in the primary. I urge Princeton students, especially those who have not registered but also those who have considered moving their registration, to register in the 12th district and support Dr. Zwicker. I urge members of the University community to support this outstanding and passionate individual in his quest to uphold the 12th congressional district’s pride in being represented by a scientist. And I urge residents of the 12th congressional district, from Trenton to Franklin Twp., to support this educator who has staunchly supported the communities of the 12th congressional district. Democrats of the 12th congressional district, this June 3, vote for a scientist again.
Bennett McIntosh is a sophomore from Littleton, Colo. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.