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Rush Holt

Rush Holt

Wikimedia Commons/United States Congress

Rush Holt to Leave Congress

One of two physicists in the U.S. House of Representatives announced today that he is retiring at the end of the year.

Representative Rush Holt (D-NJ), a plasma physicist, didn’t reveal why he has decided to leave Congress after eight terms, or what lies in his future. “This is not the time to discuss next steps in my career; that can come later,” said Holt, who was assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory before coming to Washington in 1999.

However, one science lobbyist who knows him well speculates that Holt, who was beaten badly in the Democratic primary last year for an open Senate seat, could still harbor statewide ambitions. “If you wanted to run for governor [in New Jersey in 2017], getting out of the House is probably a good idea,” says Mike Lubell, head of the Washington, D.C., office of the American Physical Society. “At least, that’s what I’d advise him if he asked me.”

Holt was once part of a triumvirate of Ph.D. physicists in the House. But longtime Representative Vern Ehlers (R-MI) retired in 2010, and Representative Bill Foster (D-IL) returned to the House only last year after losing his one-term seat in 2010.

Despite his background, Holt didn’t play a major role in science legislation, even when the Democrats were the majority party. Instead, he preferred to use his scientific training to inform his views on other major issues, notably banking and education. “He was one of the most thoughtful people in Congress,” Lubell says, “someone who could approach decision-making from a fact-based perspective rather than simply politics.” Toward that end, Holt has tried for several years to restore the tiny but well-regarded Office of Technology Assessment, which Republicans eliminated shortly after they seized control of the House in 1995.

In his ill-fated primary attempt to defeat Cory Booker in a race to succeed the late Senator Frank Lautenberg, Holt billed himself as “a teacher, scientist, and progressive.” In describing his stance on various issues, his campaign website noted that “[i]t’s not rocket science … just good progressive policy.”

In a brief statement released today, the 65-year-old Holt left the door open for future bids for public office. “As friends who have worked with me know, I have never thought that the primary purpose of my work was re-election and I have never intended to make service in the House my entire career,” he declared. “For a variety of reasons, personal and professional, all of them positive and optimistic, the end of this year seems to me to be the right time to step aside and ask the voters to select the next representative.”