Former Representative Bill Foster of Illinois is in town this week for the Annual Meeting of the organization formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Foster was a physicist at Fermilab prior to his Congressional tenure, and since his loss last November, has been examining how to recruit more scientists and engineers to enter public service, either as elected officials (federal, state or local) or in the bureaucracy.
One possible avenue is a political action committee (PAC), which he would call Albert’s List and model it after Emily’s List, which focuses on electing pro-choice women to office. Foster will discuss his plans at an online chat tomorrow (Feburary 17) starting at noon Eastern. You can submit questions in advance.
I think the notion of a science-oriented PAC is worth exploring, but I fear that there’s a high risk that it will be co-opted into the Mooney partisan ‘war on science’ nonsense. There’s no valid reason this should be a Democratic PAC or a Republican PAC. Setting scientific-oriented litmus tests or limiting the PAC’s support to actual scientists and engineers (rather than supporters of same) is perfectly fine. However, if this group won’t support folks like Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, or a Republican Fermilab colleague of Foster’s simply because of that R, it’s not a science PAC, but a Democratic science PAC.
If the focus for this PAC is on the long terms, I would suggest they seriously consider focusing on candidates for state and local office. It’s not uncommon for federal officeholders to have some previous political office experience. And while science and technology policy institutions are not well established outside the federal government sphere, science and technology issues are relevant to state and local governments. This is particularly true where universities are concerned. Finally, though this may be wishful thinking, scientists and engineers engaged in public life will be more visible at the state and local level compared to the big boys in Washington.
Good luck, Rep. Foster. Please tread carefully.