AOPA's true political power comes from its more than 400,000 members - people who are more likely to vote and participate in the political process than the general population. And the politicians know that.
AOPA also has the largest staff of lobbyists of any general aviation organization. With an office strategically located on Pennsylvania Avenue midway between the White House and the Capitol, these experienced Capitol Hill staffers and aviation professionals are ideally positioned to maintain their extensive connections with members of Congress and their staffs.
The AOPA Political Action Committee supported 105 candidates for Congress on the ballot this November. These candidates have demonstrated their understanding of and support for general aviation. The AOPA PAC provided nearly $600,000 in political contributions this election cycle. As a result, 95 percent of AOPA-supported candidates were elected.
"PAC contributions don't 'buy' a vote, but they do facilitate our ability to have a dialogue with the politicians we have supported," said Boyer. "Then it's up to us to present our case in a businesslike fashion, effectively leveraging our 400,000 members to help make our point." (The AOPA PAC is not funded by member dues but by independent contributions by AOPA members concerned about ensuring the association's continued effectiveness on Capitol Hill.)
Many congressional committees can be thought of as either appropriators (committees that write the checks for general categories such as transportation or aviation), or authorizers (committees that set long-term policies and funding levels). Since funding is critical to enacting legislation, it's important to have friends in both roles. And AOPA does.
The most important Senate committees are the Commerce and Appropriations committees and the transportation and aviation subcommittees. In the House, critical to general aviation are the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and the Appropriations Committee, along with their aviation subcommittees.
And on those House committees, the key players (and AOPA friends) remain the same (more on that below).
The important change is in the Senate, where Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, who was not up for reelection on Tuesday, takes over chairmanship of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee from Arizona's John McCain. That's good news to AOPA since McCain and AOPA President Phil Boyer never saw eye-to-eye on user fees for general aviation. The committee sets policy for the FAA, telling it what programs to pursue and setting the overall budget for the agency.
Stevens is a strong and forceful friend to general aviation, representing a state where GA directly touches almost every resident. He is known for his effectiveness as a lawmaker and his adherence to principle. He'll guide the committee with a firm hand. He is a highly decorated World War II aviator and pilot. Stevens won AOPA's Hartranft Award in 1996, and he is the President Pro Tempore of the Senate, making him third in line for the presidency.
Two senators who have been very helpful to GA will sit on the transportation subcommittee of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Subcommittee Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and ranking member Patty Murray (D-Wash.) both won reelection on Tuesday. Shelby has sponsored funding measures important to GA, while Murray was particularly helpful in defeating defense department TFRs over Puget Sound.
Sen. Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), an AOPA member, was not up for reelection and retains his position as majority leader of the Senate. Through his power to schedule the executive and legislative business of the Senate, he has control over what bills come to the floor for a vote.
Sen. Tom Daschle, the Senate minority leader and a pilot, lost a close race in South Dakota. But the state's new senator, John Thune, has historically been a friend to general aviation.
On the House side, the leadership of the committees important to GA will remain essentially unchanged.
" Consistency is the word to characterize what we expect from the House," said AOPA Vice President of Legislative Affairs Jon Hixson. "The people we know and with whom we have long-established relationships will likely continue in key positions."
Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) easily won reelection and is expected to return as chairman of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, the House committee that sets the course for the FAA. Young received this year's Hartranft Award from AOPA for his strong efforts in passing Vision 100, the FAA funding bill; his fight against user fees and ATC privatization; legislation to prevent another Meigs debacle; and other measures important to AOPA members. As a pilot from Alaska - a state that relies heavily on GA - Young understands general aviation at its very core.
The ranking member of that committee, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), another friend to AOPA and GA, also returns to Congress in January. In recent years he has become intimately familiar with the importance of general aviation to job creation: Cirrus Design builds its airplanes in Duluth, which falls within his district.
The aviation subcommittee - the forum for public debate and frequent AOPA testimony about such critical issues as airspace access, the Meigs legacy rule, and the airport improvement grant program - will continue under the leadership of Chairman John Mica (R-Fla.), who ran unopposed in Tuesday's election. He is joined on the subcommittee by ranking member Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.), who won reelection on Tuesday. Both are friends to general aviation. AOPA members returning to the aviation subcommittee include Reps. Leonard Boswell (D-Iowa), Chris Chocola (R-Ind.), Vern Ehlers (R-Mich.), Sam Graves (R-Mo.), Robin Hayes (R-N.C.), Steve Pearce (R-N.M.), and Denny Rehberg (R-Mont.), all of whom won reelection on Tuesday.
The chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee, the body responsible for providing funding to various programs and agencies, will change because of term limitations. But Rep. Ernest Istook (R-Okla.), who has been a strong supporter of FAA funding for aviation fuel research and is a key leader in supporting modernization of the ATC system, won reelection and will likely return as chairman of the transportation subcommittee.
Another friend of general aviation, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who chairs the homeland security subcommittee, will continue to play a leadership role in spending for aviation programs. Coming from a state served by many general aviation airports, he understands the value of GA.
November 3, 2004