‘Pi’ group makes first endorsements

‘Pi’ group makes first endorsements
© Victoria Sarno Jordan

A group focused on recruiting and training scientists to run for office is issuing its first round of endorsements.

314 Action, named after the first three digits of pi, is endorsing Democratic Reps. Louise Slaughter (N.Y.), Paul Tonko (N.Y.) and Jerry McNerney (Calif.), according to a release provided exclusively to The Hill.

All three incumbents, who have backgrounds in science, technology, engineering or math (STEM), will be receiving a political action committee (PAC) check and the group will also help them fundraise. None are considered vulnerable in 2018.

The group is also planning to roll out endorsements for two Democratic candidates next week. They will be announced on Tuesday and Thursday and the candidates will also be getting a similar PAC check and fundraising resources from 314 Action.

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“The [incumbents] have been trailblazers on issues that relate to STEM and science,” Josh Morrow, executive director of 314 Action, said in an interview with The Hill. “For us, it was important that our first endorsements [went to] folks who have been fighting on our issues for a long time.”

Slaughter studied microbiology and public health. McNerney was an engineer and energy specialist with a Ph.D. in mathematics. Tonko was an engineer and CEO of New York State Energy Research and Development Authority right before he ran for Congress in 2008.

314 Action has been active in helping scientists set up and launch campaigns this year and a number of them have already announced. Many are looking to unseat members on the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology, which includes Reps. Dana Rohrabacher (R-Calif.), Steve Knight (R-Calif.) and Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas).

“The momentum has not slowed for scientists who want to run for office,” Morrow said. “It’s about bringing this unique voice of science ... to all levels of government.”

A number of candidates who went through 314 Action’s training earlier this year have announced congressional bids. Some of them include volcanologist Jess Phoenix who is running against Rep. Steve Knight (R-Calif.), cancer research doctor Jason Westin who is running against Rep. John Culberson (R-Texas), and biomedical researcher Molly Sheehan who is challenging Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-Pa.).

Former chemistry teacher and Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan, who is taking on Rep. Ryan Costello (R-Pa.), has also announced and recently received a high-profile endorsement from EMILY's List.

Morrow said the group is also eying several House seats in Michigan seats and one possibly in Wisconsin.

The latest scientist to launch a bid for Congress is stem cell researcher Hans Keirstead. He's seeking the Democratic nomination in an already crowded field to take on Rohrabacher. Those in the science community have celebrated Keirstead’s bid as well as national Democrats, who see Rohrabacher as a prime target in 2018.

Rohrabacher has been in Congress for nearly three decades, but hasn’t had a serious challenger in years. But Democrats see this cycle as their best opportunity to unseat him since Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGrassley blasts Democrats over unwillingness to probe Clinton GOP lawmakers cite new allegations of political bias in FBI Top intel Dem: Trump Jr. refused to answer questions about Trump Tower discussions with father MORE carried his district by less than 2 points in 2016.

President Trump’s agenda on science and environment-related issues has sparked a new energy from the Democratic Party on this front.

His first budget proposal included major cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and he signed an executive order that began to roll back the previous administration’s climate change agenda.

In April, thousands of people attended the March for Science and the People’s Climate March in Washington, D.C. to rally against his agenda. But Morrow said that energy hasn’t waned particularly because of Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Paris climate change agreement.

“This reinvigorated and reenergized the scientific community,” Morrow said. “It just reenergized the base.”