General aviation fared well in last night's midterm elections. AOPA Legislative Affairs reports that of the candidates supported by AOPA PAC, 90 percent were elected to serve in the 108th Congress. In the House, 93 percent of the AOPA-supported candidates were elected, while in the Senate, 78 percent of supported candidates won election.
"This is a victory for general aviation," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "Several key friends who are pilots, such as Sen. Jim Inhofe (R- Okla), Rep. Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), and Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa) are returning to Congress. And several new pilot members of Congress, including four AOPA members newly elected to the House of Representatives, are coming on board."
The AOPA members coming to Washington for the first time this January include Republicans Steve Pearce of New Mexico, John Kline of Minnesota, Michael Burgess of Texas, and Chris Chocola from Indiana. All were strongly supported by AOPA PAC.
The Republicans, expanding on their leadership of the House of Representatives, gained at least three seats with five races still to be decided.
Republicans also took the Senate back from the Democrats, now holding 51 seats. The Democrats currently have 47 seats, with a recount anticipated for South Dakota that was narrowly won by Democratic Sen. Tim Johnson. And the Louisiana Senate seat is still to be decided pending a run-off election for Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Sen. Trent Lott of Mississippi again becomes Senate majority leader. Lott is a winner of AOPA's Hartranft Award for his leadership in securing passage of the AIR-21 legislation that unlocked the aviation trust fund.
One strong general aviation supporter was not returned to the Senate. Georgia Democrat Sen. Max Cleland lost his seat to Republican Congressman Saxby Chambliss. Of all the candidates supported by AOPA PAC, Sen. Cleland was the most controversial, drawing the ire of many Georgia members. Boyer remarked, "We lend support to incumbent candidates who are vocal friends of GA, and we look forward to establishing a relationship and working with newly elected Sen. Chambliss as well as the other new members in both chambers."
The election changes most felt by the aviation community will be the flip in key Senate committee chairmanships. Most noteworthy is the change in the leadership of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, which oversees the Department of Transportation and FAA, as well as authors the legislation setting spending limits for these agencies. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has not always agreed with AOPA positions, will for the second time take over the gavel from Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.). Hollings has been a longtime supporter of GA on such issues as flight service stations and user fees.
The Senate Appropriations Committee is equally essential to the aviation community. This committee provides the funding for the Department of Transportation and the FAA—essentially responsible for "depositing the money in the bank" and making sure that initiatives important to GA, such as graphical notams and modernization of flight service stations, are funded.
The chairmanship reverts from Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.), who has always worked faithfully with the transportation community, to AOPA member and pilot Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska).
On the subcommittee level on this committee, many political insiders are speculating that Sen. Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) might opt for the chairmanship of the Senate Banking Committee, leaving the helm of Appropriation's transportation subcommittee up for grabs.