October 29, 2018

Midterms and Science: CA-48

Posted by Laura Lyon

Midterms are just around the corner! There are an overwhelming number of critical races, so this week we will highlight a few that have major implications for science – mainly shake-ups in committee leadership. Don’t forget to vote on 6 November! See if you’re registered here, and find your polling location here.

California’s 48th

CA-48. Source: US Census Bureau

Our first post will be about California’s 48th district and the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. Located in sunny Orange County, a tense battle to represent CA-48 in the U.S. House of Representatives is underway.


Who’s in the race?

Incumbent Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher faces off against Democratic businessman Harley Rouda, a former Republican. Rohrabacher is a 15-term congressman whose relationship with Russia along with the shifting demographics of the district have made him one of the most vulnerable incumbent Republicans in California this election. Rouda does not shy away from the fact he recently switched parties, attempting to brand himself as a moderate in this historically conservative district promising to work across the aisle.


What’s the significance?

Rohrabacher previously chaired both the Subcommittee on Space and Aeronautics as well as the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment within the House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology. He is looking to get a promotion to committee chairman, a position that has opened up as a result of current chairman Lamar Smith’s retirement. In regards to the chair position he said to E&E News, “I’m running for re-election based on the idea that I’ve got a good shot at getting this.”

If Republicans beat the odds and retain control of the House, Rohrabacher could have significant influence over science-related legislation. He is currently outranked in the committee by vice chairman Rep. Frank Lucas (R-OK), but it’s likely that Lucas will go for the House Financial Services Committee chair instead. House Freedom Caucus member Rep. Andy Weber (R-TX) has also expressed interest in running for the chair position. If Democrats take control of the house, current ranking member Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) will become chairwoman. She would be both the first African-American and woman from Texas to chair a standing committee.


What does this mean for science?

Rohrabacher has been a strong advocate of private space ventures. He has also been a vocal skeptic of anthropogenic climate change and wants to encourage debate between those on both sides of the climate issue.

Lucas has been a vocal critic of the EPA and introduced a bill last year that changed membership for the EPA’s Science Advisory Board to include more industry voices.

Johnson has been on the House science committee for 26 years, and ranking member for 8 of them. She is a strong supporter of NASA, basic sciences, and addressing climate change. She recently introduced the Combating Sexual Harassment in Science Act of 2018, which would investigate the causes and consequences of sexual harassment in STEM.


How are the candidates doing?

Incumbent Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (left) and challenger Harley Rouda (right)

CA-48 has been historically red, but Hilary Clinton won by 2 points in 2016. The district is located within Orange County, which went for a democratic presidential candidate for the first time since Franklin D. Roosevelt. Though Republicans outnumber Democrats by more than 10 percentage points, the demographics of Orange County have been shifting significantly. In 1980 approximately 80% of the population was white, today Hispanics and Asians together make up the majority of the county’s residents.

Rouda has significantly outraised and outspent Rohrabacher, raising $3.16M compared to Rohrabacher’s $421,000 in Q3. On 25 October former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg’s political action committee launched a major ad campaign supporting Democrats in California, spending $4.4 million on advertising against Rohrabacher. The Cook Political Report rates this race a toss-up, and recent polls show neither candidate has a clear advantage.