Arguably, the most intelligent member of Congress is a West Virginia native -- a son of the youngest U.S. senator in state history -- who is a brilliant scientist and was a "Jeopardy" champion who defeated the advanced Watson computer.
Rep. Rush Dew Holt Jr., D-N.J., was born in 1948 at Weston. His father had been elected to the U.S. Senate in 1934 at the mere age of 29, and was forced to wait until his 30th birthday to be sworn in. The father died of cancer when the son was just six years old. His widowed mother, Helen Holt, became West Virginia's first female secretary of state.
Young Holt earned a Ph.D. in physics from New York University and taught at Swarthmore College. He headed a science division of the U.S. State Department, and was assistant director of Princeton University's Plasma Physics Laboratory, attempting to harness nuclear fusion, the power inside stars and hydrogen bombs.
In 1998, he was elected to Congress from a New Jersey district and has won seven subsequent terms. He's the only Quaker and only Democratic physicist in Congress. He became a five-time winner on "Jeopardy" and bested Watson during a test round that wasn't broadcast.
Holt is a proud progressive who sneers at mindless tea party Republican ideologues. He recently called them "the extreme minority who shut down the government for no apparent reason, with no clear idea of what they hoped to win."
After House Republicans voted 40 times to repeal the Affordable Care Act and halt medical insurance for 30 million less-privileged Americans, Rep. Holt said on the Rachel Maddow Show:
"We need adult leadership. How are you going to negotiate to get legislation with people who have this obsession, this ideological obsession, to repeal? It's just like, how can you negotiate on science education with people who deny evolution? ... How are you going to negotiate on energy with people who deny climate change?"
He added that tea party ideologues senselessly try to halt funding for birth control and "invent their own biology about women" and "make up their own facts." He said the far-right adherents won election by campaigning against the government, "and lo and behold, they find they are government, and it's a psychological disconnect they can't deal with. And that tail is wagging the dog."
Earlier this year, Holt introduced a resolution to declare Feb. 12 "Darwin Day" in honor of the historic naturalist who saw that complex animals evolved from simpler ancestors. He said such recognition would offset intellectual harm caused by creation zealots. "Teaching of Creationism in some public schools compromises the scientific and academic integrity of the U.S. education system," he warned.
We think Holt is an outstanding native who indirectly brings honor to West Virginia.