GA's Supporters in Government

As Election Day nears, AOPA lends support to friends of general aviation

November 1, 2006

This is a pivotal time for general aviation. The current FAA authorization and taxes expire on September 30, 2007. Therefore, the legislators who take office in January 2007 will decide the national course on aviation policy.

On November 7, pilots have the opportunity to make their voices heard at the voting booth. AOPA members traditionally vote in disproportionately higher numbers compared with the rest of the voting population. And now more than ever, your vote matters. Find out where your federal candidates stand on the issues — make up your own mind.

The FAA is partnered with the nation's airlines in calling for a new financing structure for the agency — one that will include user fees for general aviation while purportedly exempting piston-powered aircraft. The proposal also could include a new governance model for the FAA that will shift planning, acquisition, and funding decisions from the congressional authorizing and appropriating committees to an independent board composed of industry leaders. Airline industry leaders would most likely dominate that board.

The FAA hoped to move the financing piece through Congress this year, but it faced numerous hurdles including the fact that the plan has yet to be cleared by the Office of Management and Budget. We now expect the agency's new funding plan to be released with its fiscal year 2008 budget in February 2007.

AOPA has made its position clear to both the administration and Congress — no user fees for aviation! The current system of aviation taxes has generated a stable and reliable stream of funding for almost 40 years. In addition, AOPA supports keeping Congress as the "board of directors" of the FAA. Whether general aviation will continue to pay fuel taxes or pay new user fees, the amount of any general fund contribution and the role of Congress in overseeing the FAA will be debated next year in the FAA reauthorization bill.

Members of Congress face voters soon. Republicans have the majority in Congress, but will they be able to keep it? Will Democrats pick up seats — or even a chamber or two?

One thing is certain — Democrats are counting on big gains in the House and Senate, while Republicans are fighting to limit their losses. The atmosphere on Capitol Hill is highly charged, with both parties trying to position themselves in the best light before the elections. Will there be public outcry for change in government, and if so, will the Democratic Party benefit from this sentiment? Polls show that the American people have a low opinion of Congress, and the president's job approval ratings have been very low. Democrats continue to hold a sizable lead over Republicans in the generic Gallup Poll tracking public preferences for the midterm elections.

With the Iraq war, high gas prices, and the steady drumbeat of scandals and subpoenas, a number of well-entrenched incumbents find themselves in close races. This leaves the Democrats hopeful and many Republican candidates distancing themselves from President Bush and the Iraq war. Republicans are attempting to run "local" elections, but the Democrats see this election as a national referendum.

The participation of 408,000 AOPA members in the legislative and political process is an effective means of ensuring that AOPA's concerns are heard. Grassroots lobbying is one form of citizen participation in government.

It is your right and obligation to let your elected officials know your concerns and views. Members of Congress are more receptive than ever to grassroots lobbying and their constituents' opinions.

The AOPA Political Action Committee (PAC) provides members with a tool to ensure the needs of GA are recognized in Congress. The AOPA PAC is an independent fund of voluntary, personal contributions. The fund is strictly regulated by the Federal Election Commission and is used by political candidates to defray the costs of their campaigns. The AOPA PAC is a completely nonpartisan entity. Its primary goal is to elect a GA majority in Congress. The PAC supports qualified men and women, regardless of party affiliation, who recognize and support your right to fly. In addition to our proven friends in Congress, AOPA works to cultivate new members and candidates who are supportive of the industry.

Voting is more than a civic duty — it is a power. And you are more powerful than you think. Stay informed and be ready on Election Day.

There are many reasons that you may choose to vote for a particular candidate running for Congress. The following highlights some of the key races and is intended only to reflect a candidate's position on general aviation.


Hype surrounding the fight for control of the House has overshadowed that of the Senate. Yet, Democratic control of the Senate — although a long shot — is not an impossible feat. The current breakdown is 55 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and one Independent. Of the 33 seats at stake on Election Day, 15 are held by Republicans, 17 by Democrats, and one by an Independent. The Democrats need a net gain of six seats to take control of the Senate.

Among the most competitive races to watch involve the following AOPA-supported candidates: Conrad Burns (R-Mont.); Mike DeWine (R-Ohio); Ben Nelson (D-Neb.); Bill Nelson (D-Fla.); and Jim Talent (R-Mo.).

Sen. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.)

Montana risks losing its greatest aviation asset this election season. As chairman of the aviation subcommittee, Sen. Conrad Burns will be an influential voice in next year's user fee debate. Burns' record reflects the interests of GA pilots. Whether it's supporting funding for the airports we use, protecting backcountry airstrips, or prompting the FAA to move quickly on safety advancements for GA, Burns has been a true friend to AOPA. By re-electing Burns, pilots in Montana can ensure that GA gets the attention it deserves in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio)

An independent thinker, Sen. Mike DeWine is one legislator who is not afraid to vote his conscience. A strong advocate for transportation safety, DeWine withstood intense pressure from his own party and voted to prohibit privatizing air traffic control services in 2003. With the FAA ready to cede management of the ATC system over to the airlines, AOPA must ensure that senators like DeWine are re-elected. A member of the powerful Senate Committee on Appropriations, DeWine can be trusted to put aviation safety before airline profits.

Sen. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.)

Representing the state of Nebraska, Sen. Ben Nelson is a strong advocate for GA airport funding, recognizing the importance of these airports in the nation's transportation system. A member of the aviation subcommittee, Nelson will play a key role in our efforts to fight user fees. He supports the current FAA budget system of aviation taxes and general fund financing, and agrees that Congressional oversight is necessary. Nelson will ensure general aviation has a voice in next year's FAA reuthorization debate. Pilots in Nebraska should strongly support Nelson for reelection in November.

Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)

An aviation and space enthusiast, Sen. Bill Nelson spent six days orbiting Earth as a mission specialist on space shuttle Columbia. Now he is seeking his second term to the Senate. A member of the aviation subcommittee, Nelson is in a position to fight for pilots on many issues. Currently, he is leading the charge against legislation that would result in pilots having to pay for aviation weather products. AOPA has been impressed by Nelson's first-term Senate record including his staunch opposition to ATC privatization, and looks forward to working closely with him for another six years.

Sen. Jim Talent (R-Mo.)

When AOPA President Phil Boyer met with Sen. Jim Talent, Talent expressed his understanding and support for GA airports and the critical role they play in Missouri's transportation infrastructure system. In addition to supporting full funding for the Airport Improvement Program (AIP), Talent agrees that Congress has an important role in overseeing the national air transportation system. Talent believes that Congress, the FAA, and the aviation community need to look at better alternatives to funding than user fees. AOPA members in Missouri should be proud to support Talent at the polls this November.

House of Representatives

The current breakdown in the House is 232 Republicans, 202 Democrats, and one Independent. Thus, Democrats need a net gain of 15 seats to take control of the House, where Republicans have held the majority since 1995.

Although all 435 House seats are up for election, control is likely to depend on the outcome of about 40 competitive races.

Will the Democrats take the House in November? It is too close to call.

We have seen an increase in the number of competitive Republican seats throughout the year. However, except for the 1994 elections, no party has made a net gain of more than 10 House seats over the past 20 years. Regardless, some political experts and pundits are predicting a tidal wave like that of the 1994 election.

Among the most competitive races to watch involve the following AOPA-supported candidates: Charlie Bass (R-N.H.-2); Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa-3); Chris Chocola (R-Ind.-2); Geoff Davis (R-Ky.-4); Chet Edwards (D-Texas-17); Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.-6); Robin Hayes (R-N.C.-8); Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.-27); Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.-19); Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-2); Jim Matheson (D-Utah-2); Charlie Melancon (D-La.-3); Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.-8); Jon Porter (R-Nev.-3); John Salazar (D-Colo.-3); and John Spratt (D-S.C.-5).

In addition, there are three AOPA members — Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.-6); former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas-22); and Mike Whalen (R-Iowa-1) — running for the House of Representatives in close open seat races.

Rep. Charlie Bass (R-N.H.-2)

An AOPA member since 1977, Rep. Charlie Bass is a strong supporter of general aviation. When Boyer met with the congressman, Bass stated his strong opposition to whatever user fee proposal is put forth by the FAA next year. As a pilot and aircraft owner with a landing strip on his property, Bass clearly understands the importance of GA airports and the need to fully fund the AIP. Bass sits on the Committee on Energy and Commerce, where he can ensure that GA concerns regarding federal legislation mandating a renewable fuel component are addressed. New Hampshire pilots in the 2nd District can be quite proud of Bass' views on aviation issues, and from this perspective should strongly support him in this November's election.

Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa-3)

"In my view, the use of TFRs [temporary flight restrictions], especially one that is large in scale, to allow for UAV [unmanned aerial vehicle] operations is not a workable long-term solution." This statement, clearly articulating AOPA's concerns about the growing interest in UAVs in the National Airspace System, thundered from Rep. Leonard Boswell while he was chairing a recent aviation subcommittee hearing. Boswell, an active pilot, aircraft owner, and AOPA member for more than 10 years, faces a tough battle for re-election this November.

Now serving his fifth term in Congress, Boswell's seniority on the Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure makes him the Democrat's go-to person when the ranking member is called away from aviation subcommittee hearings and floor debates. With debate on the FAA's user-fee proposal and reauthorization slated to begin in January, AOPA wants aviation experts and friends like Boswell to be present.

Rep. Chris Chocola (R-Ind.-2)

An AOPA member, Rep. Chris Chocola hasn't been afraid to ruffle the feathers of Washington's establishment. He opposes wasteful government spending, and takes action when he believes federal dollars can be better spent. For example, Chocola's amendment forcing the FAA to address waste, fraud, and abuse within its purchase card program was included in the FAA's 2003 reauthorization bill. As a member of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means with jurisdiction over all taxes, Chocola will be in the perfect position to assist AOPA in extending the taxes that fund the FAA. He takes seriously his responsibility in overseeing the FAA's practices, so we are confident he'll oppose any plans to cede this role over to the airlines. Pilots in Indiana's 2nd District are encouraged to support this AOPA member's re-election to Congress.

Rep. Geoff Davis (R-Ky.-4)

Rep. Geoff Davis says what he means and means what he says. An AOPA member and helicopter pilot, Davis is seeking his second term in Congress. After graduating from high school, Davis joined the Army, serving as an assault helicopter flight commander in the 82nd Airborne Division. Later, he ran the U.S. Army Aviation Operations for Peace Enforcement between Israel and Egypt. AOPA likes this former Army Ranger and senior parachutist, and looks forward to working with him in the next Congress. Pilots in Kentucky's 4th District should get to know this member and support his re-election efforts.

Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Texas-17)

Many legislators in Washington know little about general aviation. That is why it is important to have knowledgeable and effective advocates in Congress such as AOPA member Rep. Chet Edwards. Understanding that transportation improvements are important to the economic future, Edwards has worked to protect airports and airport funding. Seeking his ninth consecutive term in Congress, Edwards faces a tough election. His continued work on the Committee on Appropriations that approves FAA spending will be of great benefit to AOPA.

Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-Pa.-6)

Facing a tough re-election battle in the suburbs of Philadelphia is second-term Rep. Jim Gerlach. A member of the aviation subcommittee, Gerlach has taken an interest in AOPA and is responsive to its concerns. With a track record of promoting efficiency in government, Gerlach is primed to return for the FAA reauthorization next year to ask administration officials some hard questions about the agency's user fee scheme. He is the type of elected official who will push the FAA to explain just how much it might cost to set up a brand new accounting bureaucracy. AOPA encourages pilots in Pennsylvania's 6th District to support Gerlach this November.

Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.-8)

"What about us VFR guys?" is the question Rep. Robin Hayes asked FAA Chief Operating Officer Russell Chew at a recent congressional hearing on ATC modernization. An AOPA member for more than 30 years, active pilot, and aircraft owner, Hayes serves a critical role as vice chairman of the aviation subcommittee. Hayes has been very vocal in his opposition to user fees. He believes the fuel tax is the appropriate system for GA to contribute its fair share. Hayes also has sent letters to the FAA describing the Washington, D.C. Air Defense Identification Zone as "terribly onerous and unnecessary," and stating his strong belief that "making the ADIZ permanent in its current form is not a viable solution." This is one VFR guy AOPA can count on. North Carolina pilots in the 8th District can be quite proud of his work, and should strongly support him in this November's election.

Rep. Brian Higgins (D-N.Y.-27)

Rep. Brian Higgins is serving his first term in the House, where he sits on the transportation committee. Representing the western edge of upstate New York, Higgins realizes that GA airports have an important role to play in the area's urban renewal. He has fought for rural airport funding and opposes the administration's proposed airport spending cuts. Higgins has taken the time to get to know AOPA and has been responsive to its requests. AOPA looks forward to working with Higgins in addressing GA issues next year.

Rep. Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.-19)

AOPA needs friends in Congress such as, Rep. Sue Kelly who listen to the concerns of pilots and are willing to work hard for aviation among the crush of other competing interests. Locally, Kelly has been Stewart International Airport's voice in Washington. Kelly understands firsthand how an airport can be an economic engine for a community by generating jobs and attracting new business. Nationally, as a member of the aviation subcommittee, AOPA works with Kelly in establishing policies that affect pilots across the nation. She opposes user fees and the elimination of Congressional oversight of the FAA. AOPA urges pilots to return Kelly to Congress for her seventh term.

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.-2)

AOPA counts Rep. Rick Larsen among those who are willing to fight for the general aviation pilot. Larsen realizes that general aviation is an important means of transportation and is committed to working on behalf of his GA-dependent constituents. He fought tirelessly for changes to the security related TFRs in the Puget Sound area. Pilots in the Pacific Northwest can be sure that Larsen will always keep an eye out for GA. It is important that this AOPA ally remain in the House.

Rep. Jim Matheson (D-Utah-2)

Rep. Jim Matheson is a sixth-generation Utahan and member of the aviation subcommittee. He understands aviation issues and is a strong AOPA ally in its efforts to protect the rights of all general aviation pilots. Matheson staunchly opposes administration efforts to privatize the ATC system and has held the FAA's feet to the fire on issues relating to environmental streamlining for airport projects. Matheson's continued work on the aviation subcommittee will be of great benefit to GA as debate on the FAA reauthorization bill heats up next year.

Rep. Charlie Melancon (D-La.-3)

Rep. Charlie Melancon joined AOPA shortly after winning his first election to the House of Representatives. Why? He missed being around "airplane" people. Before coming to Congress, Melancon spent 11 years as the president and general manager of the American Sugar Cane League, where he became friends with GA pilots flying for agribusiness. For someone accustomed to checking out crops through the cockpit, Mel-ancon has found Congress to be a new experience, but he's adjusting well to it. AOPA hopes to keep this member in Congress and on the House Committee on Science so we can continue to work with him on aviation modernization issues. Pilots in Louisiana's 3rd District are encouraged to re-elect this AOPA member.

Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.-8)

Rep. Jim Oberstar is a man with many titles. Officially, he serves as the ranking minority member of the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure. But Boyer has dubbed him "Mr. Aviation" for his strong and reliable support of GA. Earlier this year, Oberstar urged his colleagues to fully fund AIP, noting that "for smaller airports, AIP is the primary source of capital funding." Last November, AOPA honored Oberstar for his many years of support by presenting him with the J.B. "Doc" Hartranft Award. An opponent of ATC privatization, Oberstar believes the administration should not put the "cart before the horse" by proposing a new financing mechanism before determining what the next-generation ATC system is going to be and how much it will cost. Because Oberstar is a longstanding ally, AOPA strongly encourages pilots in Minnesota's 8th District to recognize Oberstar's friendship by supporting his re-election to Congress.

Rep. Jon Porter (R-Nev.-3)

With 5,000 new constituents every month in Nevada's 3rd District, Las Vegas won't even give odds on this race. But AOPA is betting on Rep. Jon Porter. A member of the aviation subcommittee, Porter has consistently been a strong supporter of general aviation. During a time when air-tour operators and helicopter pilots have come under serious attack, Porter has supported their right to fly. Specifically, he worked with his colleagues in the Nevada delegation to establish a heliport in Clark County and supports efforts to protect southern Nevada air-tour operators' ability to provide aerial tours of the Grand Canyon. Porter knows that GA is linked to Nevada's economy. AOPA members in Nevada's 3rd District are strongly encouraged to place their bets on Porter in November.

Rep. John Salazar (D-Colo.-3)

Freshman John Salazar may be new to the House of Representatives, but when it comes to aviation issues he is acing AOPA's test. Salazar's love of aviation and a growing small business provided the catalyst toward his pursuit of a private pilot certificate. Given the size and mountainous terrain of his district, Salazar has plenty of opportunities to accumulate hours in the cockpit. The district comprises 29 counties, covering a third of the state of Colorado. As a result, Salazar is very familiar with the needs of rural GA airports and realizes how critical federal airport funding is for these locations. With Salazar running in a close race to serve a second term, AOPA encourages pilots in Colorado's 3rd District to keep their state's only member of the House transportation committee in Congress.

Rep. John Spratt (D-S.C.-5)

As the ranking minority member of the House Budget Committee, Rep. John Spratt knows that funding our nation's aviation infrastructure is an investment well spent. Spratt has questioned the administration's attempt to dramatically cut AIP funding, noting that it would impact much more than travelers and GA enthusiasts — it would depress local economies throughout the nation. Recognized by many in Washington as the leading expert on federal budget matters, Spratt also is an opponent of ATC privatization. As he is a longtime friend to AOPA, pilots in South Carolina's 5th District are encouraged to return Spratt to Washington in November.

AOPA members running for open seats in the U.S. House of Representatives

Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.-6)

An Iraq war veteran, Tammy Duckworth's logbook lists one entry that would keep most pilots out of the cockpit: helicopter crash survivor. Commander of the Black Hawk unit based out of Chicago Midway International Airport, Duckworth was co-piloting a Black Hawk helicopter just north of Baghdad when a rocket-propelled grenade struck the helicopter. Determined to save her crew, Army National Guard Maj. Duckworth assisted in landing the aircraft before losing consciousness. When she awoke 10 days later at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Maryland, she learned the attack had taken both of her legs and shattered her right arm. Her road to recovery now includes long days on the campaign trail. Occasionally, she does take a break to spend some time with her favorite AOPA member — her husband, Army National Guard Capt. Bryan Bowlsbey, a private pilot. With her combination of aviation experience and demonstrated leadership, AOPA looks forward to working with Duckworth in Congress.

Former Rep. Nick Lampson (D-Texas-22)

Former representative and current AOPA member Nick Lampson is running to represent Texas' 22nd Congressional District. He lost his seat in 2004 after the district boundaries were dramatically redrawn. Lampson chose to serve on the House Committee on Transportation & Infrastructure because of his strong interest in transportation issues, including aviation. He assisted AOPA in fighting excessive post-9/11 security measures and attempts to privatize the ATC system. He is a strong advocate for general aviation issues. Pilots in Texas' 22nd District should support Lampson in his bid to return to Congress.

Mike Whalen (R-Iowa-1)

Mike Whalen, a 20-year AOPA member, is flying in a new direction these days. He is the Republican candidate seeking to represent Iowa's 1st District. Fortunately, he has a Cessna 182 to ferry him across the 12 counties that make up this district in northeastern Iowa. Whalen is no stranger when it comes to defending the rights of general aviation pilots. In 1996, he successfully lobbied the state of Iowa to reduce registration fees for small airplanes. With action on the FAA's reauthorization bill slated to begin next year, AOPA is anxious to get this pilot into office. If he is elected, AOPA is confident Whalen will be a key player when it comes to defeating any user fee proposal.

For more information on races and 2006 election politics, visit these Web sites: