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The Environment

Health Care Reform

Reproductive Rights


Social Security

The Arts

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Science & Education

Corrections or additions?

In a Twinkle, Holt’s in Congress

This article by Joan Crespi was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper

on January 13, 1999. All rights reserved.

Mr. Holt goes to Washington. Make that "Dr. Holt."

Rush Holt, the former administrator at the Princeton Plasma Physics

Lab who has a Ph.D. in physics from New York University, has moved

into his new office in the Longworth Building in Washington, D.C.,

representing New Jersey’s 12th Congressional District.

Holt already has many of the perks of his office, including money

to hire a staff, and assignments to the Budget Committee and to the

Committee on Education and the Work Force. "Two good assignments,"

he says. "Especially for a freshman Congressman. I’m really delighted.

Education is central to my career and to this district, and in this

Congress we will be re-authorizing the Elementary and Secondary Education

Act. And the Budget Committee lays out the government’s priorities

by allocating resources.")

And this Saturday, January 16, from 1 to 6 p.m., there will be an

open house to celebrate the opening of Holt’s New Jersey District

Office at 50 Washington Road, Princeton Junction. But who is Rush

Holt? He’s lean, fit (from tennis, swimming, and chopping wood), and

looks younger than his 50 years. Holt comes from a political family.

He’s the son of a senator with the same name, but West Virginia’s

Senator Holt died when Rush was 6. His mother, Helen, now a gently

vibrant 85, was a biology teacher with a masters in zoology. Like

her son, she also shifted careers: she was the only woman Secretary

of State for West Virginia, then moved to Washington and a job with


Holt is a resident of Pennington. He has taught at Swarthmore and

Princeton. He’s a solar physicist, has a patent for a solar energy

device, and until he began this campaign, he was assistant director

at the Plasma Physics Laboratory. He was a Congressional Scientist

Fellow and an arms control expert for the U.S. State Department. He

is married to Margaret Lancefield, a doctor and medical director of

the outpatient charity clinics at Medical Center of Princeton. They

have three grown children from her first marriage and two grandchildren.

And in the 1970s, he was a winner on "Jeopardy" five straight


What do others say? His opponent called him "a liberal." A

letter writer called him "a Renaissance man." He has contributions

from 16 Nobel Prize winners. One man noted "he has all the virtues

of a Boy Scout . . . but he knows politics." So what does the

Boy Scout know, and what are the politician’s positions on the issues?

Top Of Page

Rush Holt wants smaller classes, believing they provide

a better learning environment, would hire 100,000 new teachers, particularly

elementary school teachers, believing the early years are "crucial."

He supports $10 billion in interest-free federal loans over the next

10 years for school construction. He wants kids to keep learning over

the summer and supports innovative programs in the public schools,

stating that "a strong public school system [is] a cornerstone

of American democracy." He would back "a small number of charter

schools to experiment with new educational programs."

He wants the information superhighway in all classrooms in order to

prepare students for the 21st century workforce, stresses a strong

focus on science education for both boys and girls, and wants students

exposed to career opportunities in science and technology, with the

brightest students recruited as teachers. He sums up: "Experimental

schools, access to technology, and year-long learning options."

(Holt co-founded New Jersey’s School Science Advisor Program to bring

scientists and public school teachers together to stimulate science


Top Of Page
Gun Control

Holt would ban assault weapons. Children need to be

protected from gun violence, Holt says, noting that over 30 students

and teachers were killed in 1997 in school-related violence. In 1995

firearms killed 5,254 American children (the figure includes homicides,

suicides, and accidents). Holt believes that "Congress should

require `gun-free school zones’ around every school," should adopt

a "zero tolerance" policy for guns in schools, and "should

re-authorize the Brady law to keep guns out of the hands of criminals

and the mentally disturbed." Holt will work "to keep guns

away from children" — statistics show that every two hours

a child is killed by a firearm — and for firearm safety for all

New Jersey residents. He will promote the "mandatory use of trigger

safety locks," believes all new firearms should be "equipped

with personalized safeties to assure that only the gun owner can fire

the weapon," and says that "politicians must not be swayed

by big money."

Top Of Page
The Environment

As a physicist, Holt knows quantum mechanics, but more

as a scientist he’s concerned about global warming and the loss of

biodiversity. He wants Congress to reauthorize the Clean Water Act,

believes the federal government must advance efforts to curb non-point

source pollution, a major cause of surface and ground water pollution

and air pollution in New Jersey, and he supports farmer and grassroots

citizen education on reducing residential runoff. Future generations

deserve clean water, clean air, a clean planet, he says. "I will

not stand by idly and watch our generation leave a wrecked and poisonous

environment to our children." (Holt chaired the board of trustees

at the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association, one of the state’s

leading environmental organizations.)

Open space, once it is taken over by suburban sprawl, can never be

regained, Holt states. "Time is running out." He would "preserve

the few areas of open space we have left." He supports the state

plan that directs development into planned centers and away from open

space areas, wetlands, and farmland. He wants to kill "takings"

legislation which allows developers to circumvent local land use procedures

and to sue cities and counties in federal court at government expense.

He would increase monitoring of the Delaware River to decrease dissemination

of PCBs. And he wants the entire span of the Delaware River from the

Delaware Water Gap to Trenton made part of the wild and scenic river


Top Of Page
Health Care Reform

Holt would take on the insurance industry for an HMO Patients’ Bill

of Rights. Specifically, Holt’s plan for comprehensive health care

reform includes having doctors and patients rather than insurance

companies make medical decisions, making HMOs legally responsible

for their actions, ensuring that patients have access to specialists

when necessary, allowing patients to have prompt appeal of their HMO’s

decisions, ensuring the right to a second medical opinion, providing

coverage necessary for emergency room care, and ensuring women access

to a gynecologist and the right to choose that doctor as a primary

care provider.

Top Of Page
Reproductive Rights

Holt supports women’s right to choose, saying "Congress

should not be able to legislate over a woman’s body . . . this is

a private matter better left to be decided in the home rather than

the Capitol." But he would have Congress promote preventive measures

to avoid unwanted pregnancies, believes in sex education as an "essential

tool in lowering unwanted pregnancies," and would have HMOs be

required to cover the costs of birth control products. (He has served

as a trustee for the Planned Parenthood Association of Mercer Area.)

Top Of Page

The United States and other democracies "must continue

to encourage direct negotiation between Israelis and Palestinians"

to achieve a lasting peace, Holt says. He believes Israel "must

seize the opportunity of the Oslo peace process." Such a peace

— with secure borders and an end to terrorism — would also

"greatly strengthen the democracies’ leverage with other Middle

East nations," he says. Holt also supports continued foreign aid

to Israel (following Israel’s proposal for reduced economic support

while maintaining essential military aid over the next decade). And,

as part of the peace process, he says, the United States should endorse

Jerusalem as Israel’s spiritual and diplomatic capital and move our

embassy there. Finally, "both the United States and Israel should

strengthen their shared efforts to combat terrorism."

Top Of Page
Social Security

Holt believes that the federal budget surplus should

be used to save Social Security first — the surplus even comes

from the Social Security tax — and not for tax breaks for multi-national

corporations and the wealthy. "This is the best example of loss

of trust in government," Holt says. "Social Security is one

of the landmark programs of the 20th century and Republicans and Democrats

alike recognize that it has been a great success. Many of the elderly

depend on it for the majority of their support. But the issue is trust:

you won’t find a person under the age of 50 who thinks they will get

a dime. That’s a national crisis. We shouldn’t use the surplus for

other purposes until we have restored trust in Social Security. Social

Security is not bankrupt: it brings in a surplus every year. There

are things that can be done to fix it. But there’s no doubt in my

mind that we will be able to provide social security benefits for

the current working generation and for their children."

Top Of Page
The Arts

The National Endowment for the Arts deserves federal

support, Holt believes. "The arts provide a window on ourselves

and our culture. The arts are not just to make us feel good. In fact,

one of the things that’s gotten the National Endowment in trouble

is that sometimes they run things that don’t make people feel good.

We need to encourage artistic creativity," he emphasizes, "and

some of that is important at the federal level."

Top Of Page
Campaign Finance

Holt says campaign finance reform "is paramount."

He explains, "We can’t begin to deal with problems like health

care and Social Security in a way that wins the trust of the people

until we remove this" — he hunts for the word — "shame

that’s hanging over us. The constant chase for money is just distracting,

and also it undermines trust in the system. We have to move toward

partial federal financing of campaigns, to make the airways available

for campaigning, and to find other government-sanctioned means of

communications. Most of the expenses that went into my campaign went

into communications. That’s what it’s about. There are things that

can be done to remove this chase for money."

Holt backs the Shays-Meehan bill which would put limits on soft money

on the national and state levels and increase disclosure requirements.

Holt calls the bill "sensible and much needed. It helps take big

money influence out and puts the voters back in charge."

Top Of Page

Holt would have voted not to impeach on any of the four

articles. But he backs tough censure — an admission of perjury

but with no prosecution after. Mark Matzen, his campaign manager,

tells us that Holt, watching the votes, found it very frustrating

not to have been there.

Top Of Page
Science & Education

Holt strongly backs reforms in science education. "Science

education is important for everyone — not just future scientists

but all kids — so that people will understand what it is to frame

questions in a way that they can be answered, tested empirically."

(Whether a missile defense system is technologically feasible is one

such issue.) He also believes biology, chemistry, and physics should

not be separated, one to a grade, but should be taught together, "should

be all mixed up." And he believes we should be teaching science

in a way that’s integrated with other disciplines.

And Holt would increase the emphasis on science in the government.

He’s looking for ways to reward corporations that aid in scientific

research and development and would offer them tax credits. "I’m

a big fan of R&D," he says. "We need research into new sources

of alternative energy because our supplies are in jeopardy or environmentally

damaging," he says. "And we need strong support from both

corporations and government if our productivity is going to grow.

The way our economy is able to provide for its people is through productivity,

and that comes from educational training and new ideas. And new ideas

primarily come from R&D." He adds, "The slogan is no longer

`It’s the economy, stupid.’ It’s `It’s the productivity, stupid.’"

Holt’s campaign victory was an upset. He was told he would never win

the primary, then that he would never win the general election in

a Republican district. "Most of the political establishment didn’t

give me two cents worth of a chance," he says. Only three or four

Congressmen backed his candidacy. And even the "the D-triple C"

— the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee — while

it earlier provided a packet of issue papers for $500 in kind —

didn’t contribute any money to Holt’s campaign until the last 10 days,

he says. Yet it was not his upset victory but two very different things

that brought Holt to national attention.

One was a vote counting error that first gave victory

to incumbent Congressman Mike Pappas. Early editions of the Trentonian

announced a Pappas victory and the Associated Press had to run a Kill

Bulletin just before midnight on election night to rescind its earlier

Pappas victory story. Several Democrats objected to obviously incorrect

tally figures, and a recount in the county clerk’s office picked up

the human error.

The other was a commercial.

That commercial: When Holt’s opponent sang his nursery rhyme lyrics

praising Kenneth Starr on the House floor on July 21, 1998, "we

didn’t yet have a cable television budget," Holt says. "We’d

figured we wouldn’t do any broadcast television: it would just be

prohibitively expensive."

"Seeing him singing on the floor," Holt says, "made me

think that we should get up on television. We could put it on radio

— and we did — but a lot of people couldn’t quite believe

that that was their congressman singing on the floor. Actually seeing

it made a difference."

In the final weeks of the campaign, Holt filled radio and cable TV

ad spots with the commercial, itself a taping off TV, of Pappas singing

the ditty, with a female voice-over added, editorializing that Congressman

Pappas was "out of tune, out of touch."

It was produced by two of Holt’s political consultants, Brad Lawrence

and Steve De Micco of Message & Media, a New Brunswick firm which

specializes in strategy and media (see

"When we actually saw and heard what he said, we couldn’t believe

it," Lawrence says. "I don’t understand to this day what he

thought the point of that was." [Pappas might have been proud

of his singing voice. His web page revealed that he was part of a

Congressional singing quartet.]

"People were of making a joke about the jingle," says Lawrence,

"but we felt there was something deeper going on, that the singing

was sort of emblematic of a larger mind-set of the priorities that

Congressman Pappas was demonstrating down in Washington. Whether you

think the president should be punished in some form or another, it’s

not something you sing a nursery rhyme about. And this was indicative

of the partisanship involved, where the Republicans were using it

to gloat, and at the same time they were not focusing on the people’s


"At first the Pappas campaign tried to say that we didn’t have

the right to use the video and the spot," Lawrence recalls, "but

since the singing had been broadcast on CNN, MSNBC, and C-Span, it

was clearly in the public domain." At most, House members might

have been enjoined from using what went on on the House floor, but

Holt was not.

Were there any fears the commercial might backfire? "Sure, Holt

says. "At every stage of the campaign you’re always treading on

eggshells. When I decided to do this, all the Democrats around the

country were stepping around the impeachment question."

Holt cites another danger. "I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t

doing it in a way that was ridiculing our member of Congress."

He adds, "But I wanted the voters to see that what their member

of Congress was doing was not spending his time dealing with education

and health care and Social Security, these kitchen-table issues that

I’ve been talking about all year."

Some saw a further danger. The commercial kept repeating

the Pappas name. Would voters remember only the name? Some supporters

wanted a Holt commercial saying what he was for. "You give me

another $100,000 and I’ll do it," Holt retorted.

"It was so different you really could not predict the impact of

it," says Lawrence. "To some degree, you had to just go with


All told, the spot ran a few hundred times and cost just over $200,000

for air time. It is neither easy nor cheap to get the word out to

the gerrymandered 12th Congressional District, which comprises all

or parts of five counties and has 67 municipalities. There are eight

daily newspapers, a score of weeklies, five cable systems, and eight

different cable channels. In addition, the district is served by several

New York radio stations and many local radio stations.

The radio commercial cost, Holt says, about $100,000. "But it

would be a close election; we had to go to New York TV." So for

one day — the Monday before the election — the video commercial

ran on CBS and ABC affiliates. That one day cost $50,000 to $60,000,

Lawrence estimates.

In the last days the commercial’s editorial was changed, with former

Republican Governor Kean’s voice-over calling Pappas "extreme

on a number of things."

The commercial was so successful — it even came to the attention

of President Clinton — that it gave rise to its own built-in post-election

question. Was a clever commercial responsible for Holt’s election?

The ad helped, Holt agrees, but he fixes the turning point at a year

ago. " As soon as I heard President Clinton’s State of the Union

address last January, I knew this was winnable. Because in that he

talked about issues people really cared about — education, health

care, and the cornerstone of that speech was `Save Social Security

First.’ That speech seemed to me to really speak to people. That was

the turning point," Holt says. "Now, obviously a lot of things

had to work: we had to have good media and good organization and good

mail. People said, `This is a Republican district, you can’t win here.’

But if there was one point where I said, `No, I can win here,’ that

was it."

Another turning point, he says, came in the last three weeks: a grassroots

upsurge. "It was something I was hoping for, formal and informal

groups of people, and they were just phoning the daylights out of

the district. They were calling everybody they knew. I kept running

into people who said, `I just wrote a hundred letters to people that

I knew.’ Or `I took my personal phone book and I just started calling

all my friends.’ That made a big difference."

Five of the six mailing pieces, all sent out in October, were built

around Pappas singing the ditty, but these did point out, in a yes

or no format, the many issues Holt was for and Pappas against. (There

was a sixth piece included in a fund raising letter. A short, supposedly

handwritten note from Holt’s wife, it stressed family, pictured Lancefield

and her granddaughter, and spoke of herself and Rush balancing raising

their family with demanding jobs. Then it spoke of "our deep commitment

to make our community and world a better place.")

One other message is clear from all of this. Underlying any successful

campaign, no matter how attractive the candidate and how on target

his message, is money. Holt raised $98,000 from organizations and

PACs; the rest of the nearly $950,000 came from individuals: the average

was a little over $200 per person, he says. Holt estimates that more

than 4,000 individuals contributed to his campaign.

Early in the campaign Holt predicted this would be a million dollar

campaign. Many thought this was bravado, he says. He also thought

he could raise that. "I don’t think I could have won if I had

spent $100,000 less," he says. "$50,000 less? Maybe. It requires

that much money to get the message out. And most of that was for communication

— mail and media." (Campaign staff salaries, he estimates,

were about $150,000.)

Holt is still raising money. In celebration of his election

and swearing-in and to help pay off his $29,000 campaign debt, he’s

invited supporters to a cocktail reception, an hour after the open

house, on Saturday, January 16, at the Forrestal at Princeton ($250

per person, $500 per couple).

But is Holt, endorsed by 16 Nobel Prize winners, too smart, too keen,

too articulate, too principled, too idealistic, too perfect? Despite

his manifest concern for working families and his support by many

and diverse labor unions, does he, himself, lack the common touch?

This past summer he traveled all five counties of the district, walking

door to door and, like a seasoned politician, meeting with voters

at summer gatherings, fairs, and picnics. But then he did something

more. In the days after the campaign Holt began calling financial

supporters to thank them.

One astonished recipient of a call was my husband, a retired pollster

who had sent a contribution and offered one-time suggestions. When

Irv excitedly called to me, I picked up the extension and heard Holt’s

unexpected and profound thanks. His words were interrupted by blurred,

off-the-phone conversation that I couldn’t make out. Returning to

the line, Holt apologized: "I’m on the car phone," he said.

"We were giving an order. I’m at a drive-through at McDonalds."

Representative Rush Holt, 50 Washington Road, Princeton

Junction, 609-683-0003; fax, 609-683-0404. Saturday, January 16, 1

to 6 p.m., a free open house. Also, at 7 p.m. at the Forrestal, a

cocktail reception, $250.

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