This is the first installment of a series focusing on legislative developments on Capitol Hill written by the AHA’s legislative associate Matthew Bulger.
Congress is out of session this week, which means that no new bills will be introduced until the House gets back on February 25 and the Senate returns on the 24th. However, important developments have occurred on the Hill even though Congress is in recess.
Representative Rush Holt, a Democrat from New Jersey’s 12th District and undoubtedly one of the brainiest members of Congress, recently announced he will not seek re-election this year. Holt, who was a physicist before being elected in 1999, is famous for his multiple successes on the TV show Jeopardy and for winning a round of that same game against the previously undefeated Watson, the supercomputer created by IBM. Holt is also well known for his steadfast advocacy on behalf of scientific research, as the New York Times reports that he secured “$22 billion for research in the stimulus bill” and he has spoken publically about the importance of funding quality scientific research on multiple occasions.
Holt has also been a great friend to the humanist community, meeting with American Humanist Association staffers on several occasions to talk about our public policy concerns and working with the AHA to introduce the Darwin Day resolution in both 2013 and 2014 while helping us to secure co-sponsors. For those who don’t know, Darwin Day is an international celebration of science and humanity held annually on February 12th, Charles Darwin’s birthday. The Darwin Day resolution has been continuously introduced since 2011, and honors Charles Darwin and modern scientists for their contributions to humanity while opposing the growing influence of creationism in our public schools.
Speaking about his resolution on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Holt said, “Without [Charles Darwin’s] recognition that natural selection enables increasing complexity, our comprehension of our world around us would be vastly poorer. But to me Charles Darwin represents much more than a discovery or a theory—he represents a way of thinking, a philosophy. His approach to life and to the world around him should be celebrated as much as his discoveries.”
Losing Rush Holt will have a tremendous impact of Congress’ approach to funding for scientific research and will leave the institution without one of the strongest advocates for evolution and scientific thinking. This is important because Congress isn’t exactly known for its scientific approach to legislation or even for believing in settled science like climate change. In fact, the new chair of the House Subcommittee on the Environment, Rep. Chris Stewart -(R-UT), said he wasn’t “as convinced as a lot of people are that man-made climate change is the threat they think it is.” Unfortunately, without Rep. Holt, these statements may go unchallenged as there will be fewer representatives who know the science behind such issues.
Rush Holt is truly the nonbeliever’s congressman, even though he himself professes to be a Quaker. Holt has shown that a scientist can be just as effective (or even more so) as a politician than someone who previously worked as a lawyer or minor government official. He has shown us that scientific thinking does have its place in public policy, and that people of all religious beliefs and of no belief should be included in the political process. While he certainly deserves a reprieve from the constant partisan bickering and antagonism of Congress, his presence in the House will be sorely missed.