Physicist launches bid for assembly

By Katherine Powell
Chicago, Ill.

Andrew Zwicker wants to change the way people think about politicians.

“I want to use evidence to make decisions,” he said at a press conference on Aug. 1. “Facts cannot have a political position. The facts are the facts.”

Zwicker, a plasma physicist and bioethics professor at Princeton University, is running as a Democrat for one of two positions as general assemblyman of the 16th district, which includes the town of Princeton.

The theme of Zwicker’s proposed policies is basing decisions on facts and science, instead of party politics and rhetoric. He believes that scientists are valuable in politics because they are familiar with tedious research and used to making fact-based decisions.

Wearing khaki pants, an aqua polo and an easy smile while speaking to the Princeton Summer Journalism Program, Zwicker talked about Gov. Chris Christie, education, and how he intends to bring science to politics.

Zwicker criticized the lack of local leadership from Christie, who is a Republican presidential candidate. Zwicker said Christie’s decisions are grounded in his desire to impress a national audience, and that he has disregarded the needs of New Jersey.

“I have a real problem with this governor,” Zwicker said. “He is running a presidential campaign. It seems that he has abandoned New Jersey.”

He criticized Christie’s decision to pull out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a coalition of states in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic that aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Zwicker believes participating in the alliance could have brought money into the state. As an assemblyman, Zwicker promises to use statistics and scientific studies to decide the best course of action.

Zwicker also said he was an advocate of marijuana legalization. “There should be no debate about studying medicinal marijuana,” he said. Zwicker also confirmed that he had smoked marijuana, before quickly backtracking that it was something he did when he was young. 

In addition, Zwicker wants to remedy what he calls the inequality of New Jersey’s school systems. He believes good teachers are discouraged by high-stakes standardized testing, where they are evaluated on how their students do.

Zwicker’s introduction to politics began when he was a child growing up in Englewood, N.J. His mother, a retired English teacher, sparked his interest in politics. Her passion for political issues piqued his curiosity.

“The arguments I remember helped me get interested in politics,” Zwicker said.

Later, working in the plasma physics lab at Princeton, Zwicker saw an older scientist and colleague, former U.S. Congressman Rush Holt (D.-N.J.), enter the political arena. He said that Holt was a major inspiration to him. Zwicker realized that there was a role for scientists in government, and he believes that he will help the people of the 16th district by evaluating the facts and making informed decisions from there.

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