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What the midterm election means for GA

State of aviation's allies in Congress

Millions of Americans flocked to the polls for the Nov. 6 midterm election, and although a blue wave didn’t sweep the nation, Democrats were able to gain control of the House, while Republicans grew their majority in the Senate. For pilots, changes in the House will bring many new faces as well as the return of some seasoned legislators who are favorable to general aviation.

While many races are still too close to call, here are some key takeaways:

Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) was re-elected and will succeed Rep. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.) as House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman when the Democratic majority takes control in January. DeFazio has been a longtime supporter of GA, and he also vehemently opposed the controversial air traffic control “privatization” proposal pushed by Shuster. Following his re-election, DeFazio said his goal is to pass an infrastructure package of road, bridge, and transit improvements in the first six months of next year.

Many incumbent GA allies in Congress were able to keep their seats, including Rep. Ralph Abraham (R-La.), who easily defeated his Democratic opponent in Louisiana’s Fifth congressional district.

After securing his congressional seat earlier this week, Rep. Sam Graves (R-Mo.) officially launched his bid to become the top Republican of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Graves has a strong conservative record and has suggested that his background as a professional pilot and user of the ATC system will help him shape effective policies. So far, Graves’ only known challenger for the top Republican spot is Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Calif.), who is currently locked in a tight race that has yet to be called.

Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) was also re-elected to his Senate seat. A pilot, aircraft owner, and AOPA member for more than 45 years, Manchin was instrumental in getting BasicMed passed in Congress.

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Wash.) is expected to take control as Chairman of the House Aviation Subcommittee, and due to Rep. Frank LoBiondo’s (R-N.J.) retirement, it is unclear at this point who will take over as the top Republican on the subcommittee.

In a surprise upset, Rep. Steve Russell (R-Okla.) lost his seat to Democratic challenger Kendra Horn. Russell is a pilot and aircraft owner, and the winner earlier this year of the AOPA Hartranft Award. Russell helped lead the fight against ATC “privatization,” and he was also active on a number of issues that affect pilots.

Also notable was the retirement of Rep. Todd Rokita (R-Ind.). An active pilot and aircraft owner, AOPA Hartranft Award recipient, and longtime advocate for GA, Rokita was a key leader on many aviation issues, including his steadfast opposition to ATC “privatization” and his strong support for third class medical reform.

At this juncture, it appears Republicans have flipped four seats in the Senate—Indiana, Missouri, North Dakota, and Florida—and lost one seat, Nevada. Once the recount in Florida is completed, the vote counting in Arizona concludes, and the runoff election in Mississippi is decided, the Republicans will most likely maintain the majority by a 54-46 margin.

With Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn’s (R-Texas) term limited, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.), the current Senate Commerce Committee Chairman and a strong GA supporter, is projected to become the next Whip, while Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), also an avid GA supporter, is expected to become the next Chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. 

The House GA Caucus will need to be reconstituted because at least 55 members will not be returning. One of the largest caucuses in the House of Representatives, the GA Caucus was established to educate and promote GA among legislators and staff.

Amelia Walsh

Communications and Research Specialist
AOPA Communications and Research Specialist Amelia Walsh joined AOPA in 2017. Named after the famous aviatrix, she comes from a family of pilots and is currently working on her pilot certificate.

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