General aviation fared very well in the 2004 congressional elections, with 96 percent of the 104 members backed by the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association Political Action Committee (AOPA PAC) winning their races. Fourteen of 18 AOPA members who were running for Congress won their seats.
"Who controls the executive branch is important, of course, but over the long term, it is Congress that sets the course for aviation through legislation and control of the purse strings," said AOPA President Phil Boyer. "AOPA's friends and contacts remain in the top positions on the four congressional committees key to general aviation - in the Senate, the Commerce and Appropriations committees, and in the House, the Appropriations Committee and the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee."
A key race was the hotly contested battle between Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) and former Congressman John Thune. Both have been strong advocates for general aviation during their time in Congress. Thune narrowly defeated Daschle.
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.
For GA, 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. The committee sets policy for the FAA, telling it what programs to pursue and setting the overall budget for the agency. McCain has never seen eye-to-eye with AOPA on user fees for general aviation.
"Senator 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," said AOPA Vice President of Legislative Affairs Jon Hixson. "He'll guide the committee with a firm hand. " Stevens is a highly decorated World War II aviator and pilot. He won AOPA's Hartranft Award in 1996 and is the president pro tempore of the Senate, making him third in line for the presidency. The Hartranft Award is given to the elected or appointed government official who has done the most for general aviation in the preceding year.
Two senators who have been very supportive of 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 turning back Defense Department requests for restricted airspace over Puget Sound.
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 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. He 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. Young is a pilot from Alaska and, like Sen. Stevens, understands the great value of general aviation to the country.
The ranking member of that committee, Rep. Jim Oberstar (D-Minn.), another friend to AOPA and GA, also returns to Congress. 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 is in his district.
John Mica (R-Fla.) will remain chair of the aviation subcommittee - the forum for public debate and frequent AOPA testimony on critical aviation issues such as airspace access, the Meigs legacy rule, and the airport improvement grant program. He ran unopposed in Tuesday's election. Mica 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.).
The chairmanship of the Appropriations Committee - the committee responsible for funding federal agencies and programs - will change because of term limits. 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. And another friend of general aviation, Rep. Hal Rogers (R-Ky.), who chairs the homeland security subcommittee, will continue to play a leadership role in funding for aviation programs.
"AOPA PAC's support for individual candidates doesn't 'buy' votes but does facilitate AOPA's 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. With those members representing votes in nearly every congressional district, we are an organization that can't be easily ignored."
The AOPA PAC is not funded by member dues but by independent contributions from AOPA members concerned about ensuring the association's continued effectiveness on Capitol Hill.
With more than 400,000 members, AOPA is the world's largest civil aviation organization. Some two thirds of all U.S. pilots are members of the association, which is committed to ensuring the continued viability, growth, and development of aviation and airports in the United States.
November 3, 2004