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Pedro dos Santos pursues political enlightenment – in both hemispheres

Pedro dos Santos is 42 years old and has lived most of his life in the United States, but his native Brazil is never far from mind.

Or heart.

His office in Simons Hall at Saint John’s University has been the center of his academic and professional world as an associate professor of political science for five years now. But it has also served as the gateway to his home country via his status as the first Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in school history. Soon he will spend his second consecutive summer in Brazil as part of a U.S. government sponsored program to foster international exchange of culture and education.

In 2022, dos Santos’ daughter, Aida, now 7, joined him for three months of networking and research into political party dynamics, candidate selection and democratic representation – especially as they relate to the Brazilian Gender Quota Law, the subject for his dissertation en route to his Ph.D. 10 years earlier at the University of Kansas. This year, with his son, Arthur – almost 5 – in tow, Pedro plans to finish organizing a book highlighting the issue of nonviable candidates and bridging the gap between academic and legal interpretations of their impact.

Although the Fulbright award doesn’t have an output requirement, dos Santos’ goal is to have a volume published by 2024, coincidentally when he will return to Brazil with his wife, Cara Langston, and their whole family as he leads a study abroad program.

“It’s a long game,” said dos Santos, who at 6-foot-9 towers over most people on campus and formerly played pro basketball in Brazil. “I think I’m the only Fulbright there from a small liberal arts college. I teach three classes. I haven’t had much time to touch my research. That’s why it’s important to me to establish connections. This project was lower on my list but jumped up because I got the Fulbright. I had another book I was working on that’s on pause.”

That one is about the rise of religion in politics and evangelical politicians. Although it’s focused on Brazil, dos Santos finds the subject matter resonates in America, too. Both countries had major elections last fall – the mid-terms in the U.S. and the presidential campaign in Brazil. And dos Santos has provided his perspective in a variety of articles, in English and Portuguese.

“What goes on here impacts how I think about the questions I want to ask down there,” dos Santos said. “There are similarities between Brazilian politics, nonviable candidates, and the sacrificial lambs we have in U.S. elections. It’s comparable to a Democrat running in Stearns County. Like in the race for 6th District with Tom Emmer, if you’re a Democrat you know you’re not going to win. If you’re that candidate, you’re doing it for the party and you’re doing it for experience, and maybe a promise that ‘If you run here, we’ll help you in a campaign for county commissioner.’ In Brazil, women have disproportionately been put in those unwinnable situations.

“I’ve always been curious about the losers,” he added. “Losing can be important, too, to understand the process and gain the resources to be more successful later on.”

Dos Santos is collaborating with Luciana de Oliveira Ramos, a law professor in São Paulo, to co-author and edit the book, which will include contributions from multiple Brazilian writers. Fortunately, Ramos also has young children. That makes it productive for dos Santos to meet with her wherever there is playground equipment for the kids. He originally planned for his entire family to go along this year, but his wife’s paid vacation limits and his daughter’s satisfied curiosity about her dad’s homeland will make the next trip one for the boys.

“Arthur is adventurous and, because I was gone for so long, he’s become super-attached to me,” Pedro said. “Only I can tuck him in at night and I’m the only one who can read books to him anymore. It’s good and bad. But on this trip, I want to try and be more of a Fulbright ambassador, go to classes and organize a few talks. Then, as I’m there, my goal is to start writing.”

Pedro dos Santos

Pedro dos Santos (left) spent the summer of 2022 and will do so again this summer in his native Brazil, researching politics and specifically the plight of non-viable candidates. He’s shown here with Brazilian presidential candidate Leo Pericles at the famous Hippie Fair in Belo Horizonte.