Psychology’s place in politics scored a first in November’s near sweep by Democrats – Ted Strickland, Ph.D., a six-term member of Congress from Ohio, became the first psychologist to win a governor’s race.
Strickland, 65, who will take office Jan. 8, is a Methodist minister and formerly served as psychologist for a southern Ohio maximum security penitentiary.
Another psychologist, three-term Congressman Tom Osborne, 69, sought to become governor of Nebraska but was defeated in last spring’s Republican primary election. Osborne has a Ph.D. in educational psychology but is best known as the long-time football coach for the University of Nebraska Cornhuskers.
Strickland’s election and Osborne’s failed attempt will reduce the number of psychologists in Congress to three – Reps. Brian Baird, Ph.D., D-Wash.; Tim Murphy, Ph.D., R-Pa., and Diane Watson, D-Calif., a former school psychologist with a doctorate in educational administration.
Baird, 50, was elected to a fifth term. He is a former clinical psychologist who practiced in Washington and Oregon and taught at the university level.
Murphy, 54, will begin a third term in Congress and previously served seven years in the Pennsylvania state senate. Murphy was the only Republican psychologist to win in races for Congress or state legislatures.
Watson, 73, also won a third term in Congress and previously served 10 years in the California state senate.
In state legislative races, all psychologists seeking office were Democrats and all were successful. Re-elected as state senators are: Dale Miller of Ohio, Gloria Romero of California and Yvonne Prettner Solon of Massachusetts. Another Democrat psychologist, Alan Lowenthal, serves in the California Senate but was not up for re-election this year. Psychologist Leland Yee, presently a California state representative, won election to the state senate.
Psychologists re-elected as state representatives are: Ruth Balser and John Scibak, Massachusetts; Phil Barnhart, Oregon; Joyce Beatty, Ohio; William Butynski and James Powers, New Hampshire; Elaine Makas, Maine, and Walter Pawelkiewicz, Connecticut. A first-time Democrat psychologist candidate, Richard V. Wagner, won election to the Maine House of Representatives.
Steven M. Pfeiffer, Ph.D., executive director of the Association for the Advancement of Psychology – the American Psychological Association’s political arm – said overall the elections bode well for psychology.
“We know that some of our major areas, our top priorities, such as the Wellstone Mental Health Act, have not been able to get out of committee. Now with Democrats in charge of those committees that’s likely to happen,” Pfeiffer said, adding that many of the pending pieces of legislation relating to psychology have wide bipartisan support if brought for floor votes.
Strickland’s election, in addition to making the Ohio Statehouse more receptive to psychologists’ concerns, also means psychology will have a direct voice in the National Governors Association where many state priorities are set, Pfeiffer said.
He said mental health has received short shrift in most state health delivery systems and Strickland can be expected to be a voice for changing that. “That’s very positive.”
Strickland and his opponent spent more than $33 million on the campaign making it the most expensive governor races in history.