At least 10 University alumni are seeking a seat in the House of Representatives or the Senate in the upcoming midterm elections.
The candidates include Rep. Nan Hayworth ’81 of New York’s 19th district, Rep. John Sarbanes ’84 of Maryland’s third district, Rep. Terri Sewell ’86 of Alabama’s seventh district, Rep. Leonard Lance GS ’82 of New Jersey’s seventh district, Rep. Jared Schutz Polis ’96 of Colorado’s second district, Senator Jeffrey Merkley GS ’82 of Oregon, Rep. Derek Kilmer’96 of Washington's sixth district,KenBuck’81of Colorado's fourth district,Paul Clements GS’92 and’96 of Michigan's sixth districtand Gregory Orman ’91 for Kansas’ Senate seat.
Of the 10 alumni, Orman,Buck and Clementsare the only candidates who have not previously held a seat in Congress.
Hayworth, LanceandBuckare running as Republican candidates while Sewell, Polis, Merkley, Sarbanes,Clements and Kilmer are running as Democrats. Orman, who has previously registered at different times as both a Republican and Democrat and was briefly in the running for the 2008 Democratic nomination for Kansas’ Senate seat before dropping out, is running as an independent candidate.
The alumni come from a diverse set of academic backgrounds at the University, each taking different paths after graduation.
Hayworth majored in biology while at the University, obtained an M.D. from Cornell University and worked as a physician before entering politics. Orman majored in economics and worked for the consulting firm McKinsey & Company. He also founded a utilities company prior to his bid for the Senate from Kansas.
While other candidates such as SarbanesandKilmer,who majored in the Wilson School, Polis andBuckin politicsand Merkley, Lance andClements who obtained graduate degrees in public policy from the Wilson Schoolmay have academic backgrounds more directly related to politics, they too bring a diverse array of characteristics to Congress. Sewell, for example, is the Alabama’s first African-American congresswoman, and Polis is the first openly gay parent to serve in Congress.
Several alumni candidates interviewed for the article said they began cultivating their passion for public service at the University.
Sarbanes said the University impacted his desire to serve in government because volunteerism and public service are part of the University’s culture. While he personally was very involved civically before attending the University, Sarbanes said his experience in the Wilson School and his participation in volunteer programs throughout his four years reinforced a preexisting commitment to give back to the community.
“I took very seriously the motto ‘Princeton in the nation’s service’,” Sarbanes said.
Lance said that students in the Graduate School demonstrate an interest in public policy and civics before applying to the University program, but added that both the professors and fellow students had a “positive impact” on his desire to be involved in the public sphere.
Merkley was one of his classmates, he noted.
“I think Princeton does an excellent job in trying to inspire its students to be involved in the public service of the nation,” Lance said.
Kilmer said the University's commitment to promoting public service was a motivating factor in his decision to enroll. The University also engages with alumni in Congress and partners with them to work on issues, he said.
Buck said a culture of public service was important during his time at the University, particularly in teaching students to appreciate their advantages and to give to the community.
"I think that while I was in school, the idea of public service was important. I think it really opened our eyes,"Buck said. "When much is given, much is expected. We are blessed to have received an education at Princeton, and I think theopportunity to give back most of us take to heart."
Clements said his bid for Congress is inspired by a desire to end gridlock in the nation's capitol. Though the University's influence on him was mainly in education, he highlighted the confidence and knowledge of economics and politics that he gained while at the Wilson School.
Polis said the University provides students with opportunities on campus to get involved civically, highlighting his own involvement with the American Whig-Cliosophic Society and the Undergraduate Student Government during his years at the University. However, Polis noted that serving in government is not the only route to having an impact.
“There are many ways to give back to our country and the world, and I hope to continue to see Princeton alumni in all those areas giving back to make the world a better place,” Polis said.
However, Lance said he would welcome more University alumni serving in Congress so that the tradition of “Princeton in the nation’s service” could continue to be upheld.
“There are relatively few of us who are in Congress from Princeton,” he said. “I think there are fewer from Princeton than from Harvard or Yale. I would certainly like to see more Princetonians in the halls of Congress, and I hope that we can continue to contribute to the nation in the tradition of Princetonians who have contributed to the nation over the course of our history.”
Sarbanes said students who do not aspire to serve in government and civic service should still participate in civic projects to have an impact on the issues they are passionate about. He added that every student should take the responsibility of voting seriously.
“I think Princeton students need to be as smart as they are … in the sense that they care about issues that are affected in major way by decisions made in Washington and in states,” Sarbanes said. “They need to connect the dots between issues they care about and the political arena influencing that area. They have an opportunity, and an obligation, to think to the next level.”
Hayworth, Sewell, Merkley and Orman did not respond to multiple requests for comment.