A Scientist and a Leader

by Bob Braun on June 18 2013

Bob Braun, a former longtime columnist for The Star-Ledger, is following Rush Holt’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. He will be sharing his thoughts and his stories from the campaign trail from time to time.

A few years ago, when I wrote profiles about the members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation, I was a little puzzled by Rush Holt, the Democrat from the state’s 12th district. His resume was unusual.  A scientist, an astrophysicist no less,  who waited until he was nearly 50 years old before beginning a career in politics—and beginning it with a run for an historically solid Republican seat.

Like other journalists, I asked Rush how in the world a life in science could prepare someone to be a politician. Science, he would say, is a method of learning the truth. A way of solving problems, Politics is—well, should be—the same. “ I've always been fascinated by how things work—and politics is how people work together."

Back then—it was 2009—Holt said he wanted to be a senator when the opportunity arose. He could do more for more people, he said, and he believed he would be the “strongest candidate,” a Democrat who won in a solidly Republican 12th district—and who turned the district Democratic.

Now the opportunity is here and Rush is running.  The mainstream media likes to talk about name recognition percentages and the ability to attract money from outside New Jersey.  In the coming days, I’ll be writing about a number of issues and the people Rush has helped. But, as the campaign opens, it’s a good time to mention just one issue: Who would be most likely to continue the legacy of Frank Lautenberg?

Lautenberg was an unapologetic progressive for his entire career. He supported strong public schools and strong unions.  He believed in civil liberties and took on the gun lobby. And he wasn’t afraid to criticize the antics of New Jersey’s Republican governor.

Rush Holt says—just as unapologetically—that he is ``the most progressive” of the Democratic candidates for the senate nomination. He is proud of the perfect scores he receives from organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Children’s Defense Fund, the American Public Health Association, the Council for a Livable World, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, the Alliance for Retired Americans, and the Human Rights Campaign.  Rush was also recently recognized for his support of LGBT rights when he was selected as an ElectEquality candidate by the National Stonewall Democrats, a grassroots LGBT advocacy network.

And, like Lautenberg, he is not afraid to speak up. Years before the most recent revelations of massive government surveillance of telephone and Internet records, Rush spoke out for stronger oversight of the intelligence community.  In the last few weeks, he has courageously warned against surveillance excesses.

“The U.S. government has used the fear following the attacks on the World Trade Center to greatly expand the collection of personal information about Americans on a huge scale and without good oversight from Congress or anyone else.  This changes the very character of American society and what it means to be an American. It is also a very wasteful, inefficient way to try to protect the safety of Americans,” Rush said.

`` Americans should be protected from needless—and ineffective—government surveillance. ‘’

Rush Holt studies problems the way a scientist would.  He reacts the way a leader should.