Vern Ehlers

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Vern Ehlers
Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 3rd district
In office
December 7, 1993 – January 3, 2011
Preceded byPaul Henry
Succeeded byJustin Amash
Member of the Michigan Senate
from the 32nd district
In office
Preceded byPaul B. Henry
Succeeded byGlenn Steil Sr.
Member of the Michigan House of Representatives
from the 93rd district
In office
Preceded byJohn Otterbacher
Succeeded byRichard Bandstra
Personal details
Vernon James Ehlers

(1934-02-06)February 6, 1934
Pipestone, Minnesota, U.S.
DiedAugust 15, 2017(2017-08-15) (aged 83)
Grand Rapids, Michigan, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
SpouseJohanna Ehlers
Alma materCalvin College
University of California, Berkeley
OccupationCollege Professor

Vernon James Ehlers (February 6, 1934 – August 15, 2017) was an American physicist and politician who represented Michigan in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 until his retirement in 2011. A Republican, he also served eight years in the Michigan Senate and two in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Ehlers was the first research physicist to be elected to Congress;[1] he was later joined by Rush Holt, Jr. (D-NJ) and Bill Foster (D-IL).

Early life, education, and academic career[edit]

Born in Pipestone, Minnesota, Ehlers attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids for three years before transferring to the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned an undergraduate degree in physics and, in 1960, a Ph.D. in nuclear physics. His doctoral dissertation, "The nuclear spins and moments of several radioactive gallium isotopes", is available from University Microfilms International as document number 0227304. After six years of teaching and research at Berkeley, he moved back to Michigan and took employment at Calvin College in 1966, where he taught physics for 16 years and later served as chairman of the Physics Department.

Ehlers died on August 15, 2017, at the age of 83.[2]

Early political career[edit]

Ehlers served on the Kent County Board of Commissioners from 1975 to 1982. Ehlers served from 1983 to 1985 in the Michigan House of Representatives and then served from 1985 to 1993 in the Michigan Senate.[3]

U.S. House of Representatives[edit]

Committee assignments[edit]

Caucus memberships[edit]

  • Co-chair of the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) Ed Caucus
  • Peak Oil Caucus[5]
Chairman Ehlers greets Ranking Member Juanita Millender-McDonald at a hearing of the House Administration Committee.

Ehlers served as chairman of the House Administration Committee in the 109th Congress after Bob Ney resigned from the position.

A portrait of Ehlers during his service as chairman of the Administration Committee is in the House collection.[6]

Political positions[edit]

Ehlers was a moderate Republican. According to the National Journal, in 2006 his votes split 50-50 between "liberal" and "conservative." While strongly anti-abortion and supportive of lowering taxes, he was willing to break with his party on environmental and government spending issues. He was a member of the Republican Main Street Partnership and Republicans for Environmental Protection. He was the only member of the Michigan Congressional delegation of either party to vote to raise fuel economy standards for automobiles in 2001[7] and 2005.[8]

Ehlers was a staunch advocate of a federal prohibition of online poker. In 2006 he cosponsored H.R. 4411, the Goodlatte-Leach Internet Gambling Prohibition Act[9] and H.R. 4777, the Internet Gambling Prohibition Act.[10]

Owing to his votes in favor of the Federal Marriage Amendment in both 2004 and 2006, as well as his votes against hate crimes legislation and prohibiting job discrimination based on sexual orientation, Ehlers was given a 0% rating by the Human Rights Campaign, indicating a voting record generally opposed to gay rights. However, in December 2010, Ehlers was one of fifteen Republican House members to vote in favor of repealing the United States military's "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" ban on openly gay service members,[11][12][13] and one of eight Republicans to vote for the DREAM Act.[14]

Political campaigns[edit]

In 1993 Ehlers won a special election for the 3rd District, which had been vacant since Congressman Paul B. Henry died six months into his fifth term. He won a full term in 1994 and was re-elected six times with little significant Democratic opposition. Ehlers retired from Congress in 2010.[15]

Selected publications[edit]

Lead authored articles in scientific journals[edit]

Articles on science policy[edit]


  1. ^ Cornelia Dean (July 10, 2008). "Physicists in Congress Calculate Their Influence". New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2010.
  2. ^ Hulett, Sarah (August 16, 2017). "Former Congressman Vernon Ehlers dies". Michigan Radio. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  3. ^ "The Voter's Self Defense System". Vote Smart. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  4. ^ "Ehlers elected chairman of House Administration Committee | Committee on House Administration". February 2006. Retrieved August 13, 2018.
  5. ^ "HR 507: The Peak Oil Caucus is working for you!". December 17, 2005.
  6. ^ "Vernon James Ehlers - US House of Representatives: History, Art & Archives". Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "Final vote results for Roll Call 311". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  8. ^ "Final vote results for Roll Call 121". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  9. ^ "Thomas (Library of Congress): HR 4411". Archived from the original on November 25, 2008. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  10. ^ "Thomas (Library of Congress): HR 4777". Archived from the original on October 18, 2014. Retrieved August 17, 2017.
  11. ^ Chris Geidner, House Passes DADT Repeal Bill Archived October 21, 2013, at the Wayback Machine, Metro Weekly (December 15, 2010),
  12. ^ House Vote 638 – Repeals 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' Archived 2016-01-18 at the Wayback Machine, New York Times (December 15, 2010)
  13. ^ "Final vote results for Roll Call 1638". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  14. ^ "Final vote results for Roll Call 1625". Retrieved October 5, 2023.
  15. ^ "Congressman Vern Ehlers Announces Retirement". February 10, 2010. Archived from the original on March 4, 2010. Retrieved February 15, 2010.

External links[edit]

Michigan House of Representatives
Preceded by
John Otterbacher
Member of the Michigan House of Representatives
from the 93rd district

Succeeded by
Michigan Senate
Preceded by Member of the Michigan Senate
from the 32nd district

Succeeded by
U.S. House of Representatives
Preceded by Member of the U.S. House of Representatives
from Michigan's 3rd congressional district

Succeeded by
Preceded by Chairman of the House Administration Committee
Succeeded by