By Emily Barrera Cedeno
Miami Lakes, FLA.
President Trump may be the first person who comes to mind as a politician with zero political background, but the phenomenon started earlier than his campaign.
Until 2014, the thought of getting involved in politics had never crossed Andrew Zwicker’s mind. But one day, the physicist’s boss at the Princeton Plasma Physics Lab suggested he should run for Congress. It was a casual comment, but as more people in Zwicker’s life brought up the idea, he began to entertain becoming a politician.
Zwicker gained the courage to enter the political world with few connections and even less advertising. Zwicker, a first-time candidate with a small reach, expected to get a whopping one percent of the vote. But when Election Day came, he amassed eight percent of the vote. Though he exceeded his expectations, he still lost the congressional race.
The loss did not discourage him. The next year, he began the process of running for the New Jersey Assembly in the 16th district. This time, he built a team, spread his message, visited the communities in his district, and built a platform. He honed in on a specific focus: he would help create jobs, preserve the environment, and protect democracy.
On election night, Zwicker won by a margin of only 78 votes. He was not only the first physicist elected assemblyman of the district, he was also the first Democrat to win there. Zwicker says that he won because of independent voters, and that his victory was a shining example of how important every citizen’s voice is.
His scientific experience gives him a different perspective than the candidates who have a typical political background. Through his work as a scientist, he’s an expert in climate change. He’s written legislation to create a more environmentally friendly New Jersey, such as his bill to make sure that the state follows the Paris climate agreement, which became law in 2018.
Zwicker concedes that, at times, he can be out of his depth. He often recognizes his inexperience and with a smile says, “I am not qualified.” He mentions that with each year, he grows a little wiser. But it has been slow-going. He good-naturedly jokes that it was “harder for [him] to become a quote-unquote politician than to get a Ph.D.”
Now, he’s campaign- ing for his third term. He’s sure that he can only do better in helping the people of New Jersey as time goes on, especially now that he’s more experienced as a politician.
There’s a lot of hesitance to trust people with no political background or experience who insert themselves into political spaces and brand themselves as politicians. While these concerns are not unfounded, Zwicker is an example that inexperience is not something to fear in candidates, whether they’re in local or federal government. Zwicker shows that a member of government—just like in most occupations—can learn on the job.