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17 STEM Politicians Won Elections Tuesday

Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam, who is a doctor, was just one of more than a dozen candidates with STEM backgrounds to win elections in November.
Ralph Northam, governor-elect of Virginia, is a pediatrician. Image: Ralph Northam

There’s now a lot more nerds in elected office. Seventeen candidates with STEM-backgrounds ran their respective races Tuesday, from Virginia governor-elect Ralph Northam—a doctor—to Tiffany Hodgson, a neuroscientist who won a seat on the Wissahickon School Board in eastern Pennsylvania.

Many candidates decided to run only after President Donald Trump ushered in one of the most anti-science administrations in history. And a number of the campaigns sprung out of meetings with 314 Action, a political advocacy group that is helping scientists run for office.


“Voters are ready for candidates who are going to use their STEM training to base policy on evidence rather than intuition,” Shaughnessy Naughton, the founder of 314 Action, said in a press release. “Science will not be silenced.”

Among the winners are multiple school board members, but also two members of the Virginia State House of Delegates: Cheryl Turpin, an environmental science teacher, and Hala Ayala, a cybersecurity expert. Incumbent STEM candidates fared well, too, such as Raleigh, North Carolina Mayor Nancy McFarlane, a pharmacist, was re-elected.

These candidates will hopefully be better equipped to understand some of the biggest hurdles the US is currently facing—from election hacking to the opioid crisis.

Tuesday’s elections were viewed with particular interest, and seen as a kind of bellwether on how voters are feeling one year into a Trump presidency. Democrats fared well at all levels of government, many of whom are STEM-background candidates. Scientists have long remained apolitical, but the Trump administration has emboldened many STEM experts to speak out, including organizing marches in defense of science and taking public stances on political decisions.

Now, all eyes are trained on 2018, where dozens of STEM-background candidates are running in the midterms. Naughton said November’s results bode well for next year’s challenges.

“If this year is any indication, 2018 is going to be a big year for candidates with STEM backgrounds,” Naughton said.

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