The primaries in Texas this week were the first test for this year's slew of candidates with backgrounds in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).
Physician and cancer researcher Jason Westin, endorsed by the political action committee 314 Action — which says it advocates for “evidence-based policy solutions” — did not get enough votes to progress to the May runoff for the U.S. House race in District 7.
But in Texas's District 21, 314 Action-backed Joseph Kopser, a tech entrepreneur and U.S. Military Academy-trained engineer, came in second and will face Mary Wilson in the Democratic primary runoff in May. She is a minister with a mathematics background, which she told Dame magazine gives her “the ability to sift through data, numbers, and information in order to pull out what is meaningful.” Wilson, who has a master's degree in mathematics, taught the subject at Austin Community College before becoming a member of the clergy.
They are competing for the chance to replace Lamar Smith (R), who represents District 21 and is not seeking reelection. Smith, chair of the House science committee, has used his position to criticize National Science Foundation grants, question climate scientists and try to curb climate research.
On Tuesday, Wilson won 30.9 percent of the primary vote to Kopser's 29.0 percent. Voters will decide on May 22 which candidate should represent them in the general election. When Kopser spoke to The Washington Post on Thursday he described the impending runoff in cordial terms: Kopser and his daughter had been joking, he said, that the last time a big event involved two characters named Mary and Joseph, “it turned out to be pretty good for a lot of people.”
The following is an interview with Kopser, 47. It has been edited for clarity and concision.
What did you make of Tuesday's election? What happened that you weren't expecting?
Kopser: This is exciting to be a first-time candidate returning to public service. [Kopser, a military veteran, held a government position at the Pentagon.] And so what was exciting was to see democracy in action. Nearly a year of my life had gone into planning, preparation, and then the actual day of execution was just a thrill.
By our accounts, on our projections, some 8,000 people showed up to the polls that we had not anticipated — even on the high side.
Evan Smith from the Texas Tribune said it best: There was not a blue wave in Texas. There was a pink wave in Texas. It is reflected in so many races where women finished strong, and in many cases women were the top two finishers.
Now we know there's an even larger universe of people that are eager to have their voice heard. But we survived. We made it past the primary, and now we can focus on the runoff.
You now have a lot of data after Tuesday’s election. Are you going to use that to hone your approach for the next part of the campaign?
Kopser: Heck, yeah, I'm going to be engineering this sucker.
We haven't decided on exactly the best methodology, but you better believe it's going to be data-driven. It's going to be driven by good practices. It's going to be engineered in such a way that we will make the most efficient use of our time and our resources. It's a big district, as you know, and you've to target the right people, because unfortunately so few people actually show up at these primary runoff elections.
I don't always give bumper sticker answers. There have been plenty of forums where I've been booed. And at the end of the day, I'm not here to tell people what I think they want to hear. I'm here to tell people what I think they need to hear. The results validate the fact that that's what people respond to.
What have you learned so far?
Kopser: The biggest thing was, even though this was high turnout, it was still single digit. And that's just so disappointing. And that's everybody's responsibility to try to up those numbers.
What do you make of the national attention to this race?
Kopser: Texas, though it might not be turning blue, has certainly got a shade of purple to it. And that is causing a lot of people to be optimistic.