Election 2002

A fight for general aviation

October 1, 2002

Since September 11, 2001, general aviation has faced major hurdles, including the months-long suspension of VFR operations in 30 major metropolitan areas nationwide. Much of the credit for breaking the impasse belongs to the sympathetic and able actions of legislators knowledgeable about general aviation. The hurdles in the upcoming 108th Congress loom equally large as AOPA and its advocates on Capitol Hill continue to fight for the rights of GA and stem the tide of oppressive restrictions. Security issues will remain at the forefront, and the multiyear FAA spending plan is up for renewal. This comes at a time of budget deficits and when the current administration has taken preliminary steps to privatize air traffic control. It is only through the continued support of our allies in Congress that GA will survive this treacherous climate. Higher aviation fuel taxes, new user fees for services replacing existing taxes, and nondiscriminatory access to our nation's airports and airspace are all issues that will come before our elected leaders in Washington, D.C.

Your association spends significant time and resources working with members of Congress and their staff on behalf of you, our members. The outcome of this work affects the industry and all general aviation pilots and owners. From an office at the steps of the Capitol and a few blocks from the doors of the FAA, the AOPA Legislative Affairs staff works in concert with the staff at AOPA headquarters in Frederick, Maryland, to educate lawmakers and to make sure that the concerns of AOPA's more than 385,000 members are heard by those with the power to decide the future of general aviation.

However, these efforts cannot continue to succeed without the essential support of AOPA's Political Action Committee (AOPA PAC). AOPA PAC is the driving force assuring that our members' voices will be heard on Capitol Hill. AOPA PAC provides financial support to the candidates for the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives who will be most likely to support AOPA's position on issues pending before Congress.

Many of the challengers and incumbents who receive support from AOPA PAC are pilots and AOPA members. Others, who recognize the vital role general aviation plays in the economy, have used their power and influence in Congress to fight for general aviation. AOPA PAC dedicates its financial support to a wide range of lawmakers and candidates. Leaders and chairmen of key committees such as the Senate Commerce Committee and the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee have benefited from our support, as have members of committees that indirectly impact general aviation, such as House Ways and Means, the Senate Finance Committee, the House and Senate Select Committees on Intelligence, as well as the House and Senate Appropriations Committee. Now more than ever, general aviation is dependent on its champions in Congress. Whether they are Republican or Democrat, AOPA PAC supports those candidates who have demonstrated an interest in protecting your right to fly.

Federal law prohibits AOPA from using your annual dues to contribute to political campaigns. So, AOPA PAC serves that function by using the money that members contribute on a strictly voluntary basis. Donations from AOPA members who support AOPA PAC allow us to contribute to those pilots and other candidates who support general aviation. Without this vital support they may lose the financial edge that they need to win on Election Day.

Please take a few moments to look at several of the candidates who have demonstrated an interest in protecting GA. These are the individuals running with the financial support of AOPA PAC. Our support for these candidates is dictated by their dedication to protecting GA rather than their views on taxes, education, Social Security, and other issues.


Congressional profiles

Sen. Max Cleland (D-Ga.) was first elected in 1996, and his first reelection campaign is expected to be very competitive. Cleland, a Vietnam veteran, sits on the Senate aviation subcommittee and has consistently been strongly supportive of AOPA positions and responsive to our requests. Recently he sent a letter to then-FAA Administrator Jane Garvey in support of the AOPA-proposed rule that pilots be required to carry government-issued photo identification when flying, in addition to their pilot and medical certificates. Cleland faces a tough fight against Congressman Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), and national party interest is contributing to speculation that this will be among the most expensive races in the country in 2002. Friends such as Cleland are tough to find, so it's important that we keep them in office.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) is an AOPA member seeking his fourth consecutive term in the Senate. Harkin's work in Congress includes 10 years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives and a short period working as a congressional staffer on the Hill. He was elected to the Senate in 1984. An original cosponsor of the Senate bill to save Merrill C. Meigs Field in Chicago and cosponsor of GA relief bills, Harkin has been important to AOPA and we need him to continue his hard work in Washington. He faces a tough reelection challenge from Congressman Greg Ganske (R-Iowa), and the race is expected to be very close.

Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.), the state's senior senator, is up for his first reelection bid since being sent to Washington in 1996. Smith, who began his political career in the Oregon State Senate in 1992, is a member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over all transportation issues, including aviation. Smith has repeatedly been very supportive of GA on the committee, on the floor of the Senate, and through correspondence with the FAA. He also has joined Cleland in urging adoption of the AOPA petition for the FAA to require pilots to carry government-issued photo identification when flying.

Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), from the Seventh District of Florida, has been a good friend of GA since he first was elected in 1992. As the chairman of the aviation subcommittee, Mica has championed the reasonable implementation of transportation security measures and vocally supported legislation to keep Chicago's Meigs Field open for another generation. His continued leadership will undoubtedly be important as Congress is expected to consider potentially restrictive security measures that are unfriendly to GA.

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) currently represents Iowa's Third District and was first elected to the House of Representatives in 1996. A seasoned pilot, aircraft owner, and longtime member of AOPA, he has always been an advocate for issues important to GA, weighing in heavily on bills to preserve backcountry landing strips and opposing the implementation of user fees. Boswell always keeps an eye out for GA, taking strong positions to protect his fellow pilots. He faces a tough race this year because of redistricting.

Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) of Minnesota's Seventh District has been serving in the House since 1990 and continues to actively support GA. A pilot, he was a strong advocate for the GA industry as Congress passed the key post-September 11 Aviation Security bill. Emphatic that elements adverse to GA should be less burdensome than originally written in the bill, the congressman worked hard with his colleagues to defeat those provisions. Peterson is a friend of AOPA and continues to work with fellow members of aviation-related caucuses to protect and preserve aviation.

Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.) is looking for his second full term since winning a special election in 1994, when he replaced former Sen. David Boren who resigned his seat to accept the presidency at the University of Oklahoma. Inhofe is an AOPA member and active pilot who has proven to be an avid GA supporter and participant. The senator authored the language that opened the skies to VFR traffic after the September 11 tragedy and was the driving force in Senate attempts to legislate some form of relief for small general aviation businesses. He is the staunchest friend AOPA has in the Senate and has strong opposition in this race from former Oklahoma Gov. David Walters.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.) of North Carolina's Eighth District was first elected to Congress in 1998. A commercial pilot with multiengine and instrument ratings as well as a member of AOPA for more than 27 years, Hayes is invaluable to our cause and serves as the vice chairman of the House aviation subcommittee. After a close reelection campaign in 2000, Hayes is expected to face another tough fight for reelection in the newly redrawn district. He is a GA enthusiast who often flies his own Beechcraft King Air 200 for business and campaign purposes. It is vitally important that this AOPA ally remain in the House.


Julia Krauss is the vice president of legislative affairs for AOPA. E-mail the author at julia.krauss@aopa.org.


To learn more about candidates who support AOPA, visit our Web site ( www.aopa.org/whatsnew/caphill.cfm).