Many key general aviation supporters have retained their seats in both chambers of Congress following the Nov. 4 midterm elections and at least two more AOPA members will join Congress. But retirements and election losses will leave the General Aviation Caucuses in both the House and Senate with some rebuilding to do in 2015.
Republicans expanded their numbers in the House of Representatives, winning what will be the largest majority since World War II, even with some as-yet-undecided races. At the same time, the big story in Tuesday’s election is the shift in leadership in the Senate from Democratic to Republican hands. Republicans picked up at least seven seats in the Senate and currently have a 52-45 advantage with three races still to be decided.
Two of the incoming Republicans are also AOPA members. Barry Loudermilk has been elected to serve Georgia’s 11th District in the U.S. House of Representatives, while former Gov. Mike Rounds has been elected to fill one of South Dakota’s two Senate seats.
Also significant, Rep. Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.), the top Democrat on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, was defeated after 38 years in Congress.
While it remains to be seen exactly what the shift in power will mean for general aviation issues, a number of key GA advocates have retained their seats.
In the House, AOPA members Reps. Sam Graves (R-Mo.), co-chair of the House General Aviation Caucus, and Todd Rokita (R-Ind.), both original co-sponsors of the House’s General Aviation Pilot Protection Act to reform the third class medical, won handily. That bodes well for keeping the pressure on the FAA to move its rulemaking process forward. The agency has drafted a proposed rule that is expected to allow thousands more pilots to fly without going through the cumbersome third class medical certification process. That draft rule is now undergoing review by the Department of Transportation and Office of Management and Budget before it can be opened to public comment.
Meanwhile, the House General Aviation Caucus will need to seek new leadership after Co-chair and AOPA member Rep. John Barrow (D-Ga.) lost to challenger Rick Allen. In all, at least 32 of the House GA Caucus’ 253 members will be leaving, primarily due to retirements or running for other offices.
The Senate GA Caucus, which will lose at least seven of its 40 members, will also need to seek new leadership. Senate Caucus Co-chair Mike Johanns (R-Neb.) is retiring. Fellow Co-chair Mark Begich (D-Alaska) is still fighting to retain his seat against Republican Dan Sullivan, who had a narrow lead at last check.
“It will be important to rebuild the GA Caucuses during the next Congress,” said Jim Coon, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs. “Because these caucuses take the time to explore and understand the issues affecting the general aviation community, their members play a vital role in protecting and supporting GA. That support will be especially important in 2015 when Congress will debate FAA reauthorization, which will set policy and funding levels for the agency for years to come.”
There are some promising signs for growing the Senate GA Caucus as several current members of the House GA Caucus move to the Senate following the election. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), Cory Gardner (R-Colo.), and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) all have been elected to the Senate. Though not currently a GA Caucus member, Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) is a co-sponsor of the House’s General Aviation Pilot Protection Act. He, too, will be moving from the House to the Senate in the next Congress after defeating Sen. Mark Pryor (D-Ark.), another GA supporter.
Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), a stalwart for general aviation issues who was an out-front supporter of AOPA’s efforts to end unwarranted stops and searches of GA aircraft and pilots by Customs and Border Protection agents, has been re-elected.
“We are encouraged by the number of GA supporters who will be returning to Congress, and we look forward to continuing to work with them” said Coon. “The House GA Caucus is still among the largest in Congress thanks to AOPA members who regularly remind their representatives that general aviation matters.”