It’s a new day in Washington—demographics of the new members of Congress & some early legislation to help science


JMM is over, back to politics and policy watching!

The first day of JMM was a horrific one in Washington, DC. It is shocking and disgraceful, but arguably not surprising that events unfolded as they did. The double standard of police treatment of these “protesters” as compared to the treatment of protesting Black Americans is despicable. Our President incited this violence, and I am counting down the days until he is out of the White House. [These views are my own.]

It will not have escaped you that politics in 2021 will be different than in 2020. We already have a new Congress in place—the 117th Congress began work on January 3. We will have a new President on January 20.

Several bills that would improve the profession for mathematicians—either very directly or in less direct ways—were introduced during the first week of the new Congress. These include a package from the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology Chair Eddie Bernice Johnson and Ranking Member Frank Lucas:

The Supporting Early-Career Researchers Act addresses the immediate need to help early career scientists bridge the gap that exists due to greatly reduced hiring being done by universities and colleges. It creates a new postdoctoral fellowship program at the National Science Foundation to help support early career researchers whose employment opportunities have been impacted by the COVID-19 health crisis. The goal of this fellowship program would be to prevent the loss of research talent due to job market disruptions caused by any economic decline during and after the pandemic. We hope to garner support for this bill—you can reach out to your representative (10-30 seconds is all it takes) and ask them to support this bill, so important to the math community:

The STEM Opportunities Act will support policy reforms, research, and data collection to identify and lower barriers facing women, minorities, and other groups underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) studies and research careers. This bill, if it were to become law, would help us broaden participation in the scientific workforce (which, of course, includes PhD mathematicians).

The Rural STEM Education Research Act addresses inequities faced by rural students that make it harder to access quality STEM education. These are driven by a wide variety of challenges, including shortages of science and math teachers, high teacher turnover, and difficulty in accessing computer-based learning technology. This would help prepare more rural students for college and thus, again, help broaden participation in the scientific workforce.

Now what about newly elected members of Congress? How are the demographics different than last year? Are there any new members with science backgrounds?

[Note: the numbers below reflect Senator Padilla replacing Senator Harris when she is sworn in as Vice President on January 20, but do not take into account the outcome of the January election for the two Georgia Senate seats. The Georgia election outcome changes the balance of women and Blacks in Congress. As of this writing, Kelly Loeffler is still in the senate and the numbers below reflect this. There may be other changes, too, that come about as a result of President Biden appointments and nominations.]

Women: As of this count, there are now 143 women in Congress, the largest number ever.

In the House, 27 of the 60 incoming new members are women. There are now 118 women in the House; 89 are Democrats and 29 Republicans. Of the freshwomen, 9 are Democrats and 18 are Republican. Republicans more than doubled their ranks; they had 13 last term.

In the Senate, there are a total 25 women—and only one new female senator, Cynthia Lummis who also happens to be the first female senator from Wyoming. With Kamala Harris leaving the Senate, there remain four states with two female senators—MN, NH, NV, WA.

Blacks: There are now 61 Blacks in Congress, the largest number ever.

Eight (6 Democrats, 2 Republicans) of the newly elected House members are Black and, together with the 50 re-elected Black members (50 Democrats, 0 Republicans), we have a total of 58 Blacks serving in the House. In the Senate, there are no newly elected Black members but there is one (a Democrat) who has been re-elected, and two that remain (one from each party, and were not up for re-election).

Latinos: There are now 44 Latinos in Congress, the largest number ever.

Six (2 Democrats, 4 Republicans) of the newly elected House members are Latino and, together with the 33 re-elected Latino members (28 Democrats, 5 Republicans), we have a total of 39 Latinos serving in the House. In the Senate, there is one newly elected Latino member (Democrat), and four that remain (two from each party, and were not up for re-election).

LGBTQ: There are now 11 LGBTQ members in Congress, the largest number ever.

Two (both Democrats) of the newly elected House members are LGBTQ and, together with the 7 re-elected LGBTQ members (all Democrats), we have a total of 9 LGBTQs serving in the House. In the Senate, there will remain 2 LGBTQ senators (both Democrats); neither was up for re-election.

What about science backgrounds? This is always a bit tricky to discern; it is hard to know who to count. Many scientists are very excited to have astronaut Mark Kelly (AZ) join the Senate; he has a bachelor’s degree in marine engineering and a master’s in aeronautical engineering. Other new senators with scientific training include:

  • John Hickenlooper (CO) who has a master’s degree in geology,
  • Alex Padilla (CA) who majored in mechanical engineering at MIT (note that his plan to become an aerospace engineer was derailed by the anti-immigrant politics of the 1990s),
  • Roger Marshall (KS) who studied biochemistry as an undergrad and is an MD, and
  • Cynthia Lummis (WY) who has two bachelor’s degrees–in biology and in animal science.

New House members with undergraduate degrees in science fields include

  • Barry Moore (AL 2) who studied agricultural sciences,
  • Scott Franklin (FL 15) who studied oceanography,
  • Nikema Williams (GA 5), who studied biology, and
  • Burgess Owens (UT 4), who studied biology and chemistry [Note: if you recognize his name for some reason that you cannot quite put your finger on it is perhaps, like me, you are a football fan. He played for both the Jets and the Raiders.]

Additionally, Jay Obernolte (CA 8) has a Master of Science in artificial intelligence.

Happy 2021! Let’s all hope for efficient and complete vaccine rollout, and peace in our streets.

About Karen Saxe

Karen Saxe is Director of the AMS Office of Government Relations which works to connect the mathematics community with Washington decision-makers who affect mathematics research and education. Over many years she has contributed much time to the AMS, MAA, and AWM, including service as vice president of the MAA and in policy and advocacy work with all three. She was the 2013-2014 AMS Congressional Fellow, working for Senator Al Franken on education issues, with focus on higher education and STEM education. In Minnesota she has served on the Citizens Redistricting Commission following the 2010 census and serves on the Common Cause Minnesota Redistricting Leadership Circle. She has three children and, when not at work especially enjoys being with them and reading, hiking and sharing good food and wine and beer with family and friends.
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