As a kid, Joseph Kopser wanted to be an astronaut more than anything. Today, the aerospace engineer and 20-year combat veteran is about as down-to-earth as a rocket scientist can possibly get.
"There's nothing that fools them more than my boots, blue jeans and beer drinking," Joseph Kopser told Science AF.
"I'll be at a bar talking about hard and complex problems, and people will look at me like, 'Well what are you? Some kind of rocket scientist?' And I just smile and say, 'Ah, I've dabbled.'"
Kopser is running for Congress in Texas' 21st District because he believes his scientific background makes him uniquely qualified for office. From serving in Iraq to starting and selling an award-winning business called Ride Scout, Kopser's application of the scientific method has come in handy on more than one occasion.
"My life has always been based on an appreciation of science and data, and the pursuit of efficiency for the benefit of the community," he said.
"I have a constant drive to fix a problem that I think I can solve. Even if I don't know initially if I can solve it, I start tinkering until I think I can find how it works, and then I start thinking about how I can make it better or more efficient."
Republican Lamar Smith is the current representative in Kopser's district and one of the most vocal climate deniers in Congress, which is really no surprise given that Smith has received nearly $760,000 from oil and gas contributors over the course of his three-decade career.
Even still, Kopser wasn't compelled to run for office until Smith gave legitimacy to Donald Trump and then defended the whole "fake news" deal on the floor of the House.
"When we get into a battle of facts, when we start challenging the truth, that is one of the biggest threats to democracy we have," Kopser told us.
Smith is the current chair of the House Science, Space and Tech Committee, despite the fact he has no background in science and has spent the past four years waging a war against scientists.
Since becoming chairman, Smith has subpoenaed more scientists before his committee in four years than any sitting chair has done in the previous 52. Smith has even accused NOAA scientists of falsifying their data.
Two weeks after Kopser outraised the incumbent Congressman for the second quarter in a row, Smith announced his retirement.
"Let's just say we like to take some small credit in it," laughed Kopser.
"He was getting outraised by a challenger, a 20-year combat vet, an aerospace engineer and successful businessman who has raised three daughters along the way."
Jobs, education and our children's future
Kopser's campaign is focused on three key issues in American society: jobs, education and our children's future.
Right now, there are 40,000 job openings in Houston and 18,000 job openings in San Antonio. The problem is, there aren't enough Americans with the skills, training and certifications needed to fill these positions.
In Texas the problem is called 60 by 30, because by 2030, 60 percent of all jobs in the state will require some sort of training and education beyond a high school degree.
"Our overall education system needs to be improved so that we are better prepared to enable young Americans to have those skills," Kopser told Science AF.
"We need to retrain those in the economy and ensure future Americans are employable."
According to Kopser, preparing students for 21st century careers will require restructuring public school funding, making affordable college a priority, and increased investment and opportunity in STEM.
With climate change on the horizon and the renewable energy industry booming, Kopser describes himself as a "100 percent renewable guy." If elected to Congress, his goal is to get America off of carbon-based fuels as soon as possible.
"It obviously can't be done overnight because of the sheer size of the carbon economy, so we have to work as quickly as we can to provide market-based incentives that are inspired by government participation," he said.
"That allows us to find solutions for increasing renewables like solar and wind. Here in Texas, 51 percent of our electricity on peak days comes from our wind."
Still, it's not just the health of the planet that Kopser cares about. Like many other candidates running for Congress in 2018, health care is also a key priority. Kopser wants to make sure all Americans are covered so that "every bump, bruise and broken bone doesn't lead to bankruptcy." That's why he supports a single-payer health care system.
"People need to understand that healthcare is a freedom," he said.
"If you have health care provided for you and your family, you can take a risk to start a new company or you can leave a bad company. With health care every budding inventor and innovator can take the risk and go off and build a new company."
"We need to ensure that our children have just as much of a chance at the American dream as anyone else."
Science AF is ScienceAlert's new editorial section where we explore society's most complex problems using science, sanity and humor.