Jim Oberstar has lost. Not just lost his chairmanship of the House committee that oversees the FAA, but he’s completely gone from Congress.
What does this mean? It means that there’s a reasonable chance of getting an extension to the moratorium on FAA-AST regulation of passenger safety, which was due to expire in 2012. The suborbital industry hasn’t advanced as much as anticipated when the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act was passed in late 2004, so eight years wasn’t enough. The new chairman will probably be current ranking member John Mica of Florida. His district runs from the northern Orlando suburbs up to the coast from Daytona to St. Augustine, which isn’t really part of the space coast, but it’s just north of it, so I imagine he’ll be amenable to legislation that will help business there.
The Aviation subcommittee, currently run by Russ Carnahan of Missouri, will probably go to ranking member Tom Petri of Wisconsin. From his profile:
A persistent foe of government waste, Petri has repeatedly earned high marks from such organizations as the National Taxpayers Union, the Concord Coalition, Citizens Against Government Waste, Americans for Tax Reform, and the Watchdogs of the Treasury. Over many years he has repeatedly been named a “Guardian of Small Business” by the National Federation of Independent Business, and has won the “National Security Leadership Award” from the American Security Council.
Petri is known for his efforts to apply innovative solutions to problems, with a firm commitment to cost-effectiveness. Accordingly, Norm Ornstein, a prominent political scholar and expert on Congress, has called Petri “one of the most thoughtful members of Congress, filled with lots of ideas about how to make government better,” while senior Washington Post columnist David Broder has called him “a notably independent, creative legislator.”
Seems like he’d also be amenable to sensible legislation that promotes commercial spaceflight, which will also help NASA save money.
It’s really hard to appreciate what great and unexpected news this is. There were a lot of indications that Oberstar was in trouble, but it was still hard to believe that he could actually lose his election. The Commercial Spaceflight Federation should plan on trying to move some legislation this year. It’s hard to believe that the administration would be opposed, given its commercial-friendly space policy in general.
[Update a couple minutes later]
I just realized that I didn’t explain why Oberstar was so bad. Go read this article from 2005 at The Space Review.
[Update a while later]
Here’s a little disappointing news on the space front. I was hoping that Gabbie Giffords would lose in Arizona, and she almost did, but it looks like the libertarians kept her in office, by a couple thousand votes. But at least she’ll no longer chair the space subcommittee. Same thing happened to rocket scientist Ruth McClung. If those libertarians had voted for her, they’d have defeated (Arizona-bashing) Grijalva.
I often, even mostly vote libertarian in elections, to make a political point, but never in one that tight. I do prefer the lesser of the two evils, and it was particularly important in this election to remove as many Democrats as possible.
[Update early afternoon]
The Arizona races are still too close to call.