Kelly Wins, Gardner and Horn Lose

Kelly Wins, Gardner and Horn Lose

A former NASA astronaut will join the ranks of the Senate in January, while two other notable space supporters, one in the Senate and one in the House, will be leaving according to election results called by the Associated Press (AP).  Votes are still being counted, but two have already conceded.

Mark Kelly, husband of former Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, who survived an assassination attempt in 2011, was declared the winner of the race against incumbent Martha McSally by the AP, although she had not conceded by press time.

Senator-elect Mark Kelly (D-AZ) and his wife Gabby Giffords. Photo credit: Kelly campaign website.

Mark and his twin brother Scott both are former NASA astronauts and former Navy pilots. Mark flew four space shuttle missions between 2001 and 2011, two as pilot (STS-108 and STS-121) and two as commander (STS-124 and STAS-134). His wife’s near-fatal shooting and the deaths and wounding of several other people attending a constituent “Congress on Your Corner” meeting in her Tucson district, galvanized his interest in politics. Giffords had chaired the space subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee when she was shot in the head. Her extensive injuries, from which she continues to recover, forced her to resign.

Kelly decided to run to fill the last two years of the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Sen. John McCain. McSally had been appointed by the Governor of Arizona to occupy that seat until this election could be held after she lost her bid for Arizona’s other Senate seat two years ago. McSally is a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee (SASC) and played pivotal roles in SASC approving the nomination of Gen. John Hyten to be Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff after an allegation of sexual assault by a subordinate, and the choice of Barbara Barrett to be Secretary of the Air Force.

Kelly will have to run again to keep the seat in 2022.

In a victory speech just after midnight Eastern Standard Time, Kelly said now it is time to get to work and improve people’s lives. Comparing this campaign to the two-year training for a space shuttle mission, he said that once “we were on the launchpad ready to go, and then the work started.”

In nearby Oklahoma, the news for Democrats was not as good. Rep. Kendra Horn lost her bid for reelection and has conceded.

Congresswoman-elect Stephanie Bice (R-OK). Photo credit: campaign website.

Horn is the only Democrat in the Oklahoma delegation and in 2018 was the first Democrat to win an Oklahoma congressional district in decades. She currently chairs the Space and Aeronautics Subcommittee of the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee. A former official with the Space Foundation, she is a staunch supporter of NASA although the House version of the NASA authorization bill, of which she is a co-sponsor, has some important differences with its Senate counterpart and the Administration’s preferences. Most notably, the bipartisan House bill (H.R. 5666), which was approved by her subcommittee in January, would require the Human Landing Systems for the Artemis program to be owned by the government instead of their private sector developers as currently planned. Horn expressed optimism last month that a NASA authorization bill would clear Congress this year, but it is unclear what Congress will be able to accomplish in the lame duck session.

Horn’s opponent, Stephanie Bice, is a Republican state senator in Oklahoma. Her position on space issues is unclear, but it is notable that the top Republican on the House SS&T Committee, Frank Lucas, also is from Oklahoma, as is NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine (himself a former Member of Congress), along with Sen. Jim Inhofe (R), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.  Lucas and Inhofe won their reelection races.

Senator-elect John Hickenlooper (D-CO). Photo credit: campaign website.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) conceded his defeat fairly early yesterday evening, losing to former Governor John Hickenlooper. Gardner is a member of the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and of its Aviation and Space subcommittee.  Gardner is one of the original co-sponsors of the PROSWIFT space weather bill, along with Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), that was just enacted after five years of effort.  Two amendments Gardner added to the Senate version of the NASA authorization bill (S. 2800) reportedly are holding up its consideration by the Senate. They would place extra requirements on NASA before it signs contracts with companies that might have connections with China. At a September 30 Senate Commerce Committee hearing on NASA, he made his case against China for stealing intellectual property. Bridenstine agreed, but argued that NASA should not be put in the position of investigating investors in U.S. companies, which is already done by other government entities.

Colorado is one of the top space states, hosting major civil and national security government space facilities and corporate headquarters. A former geologist, Hickenlooper called for a science-based approach to climate change during his campaign and while he does not mention NASA or national security space on his website, he does call for investing in technological leadership and notes that Colorado is home to six military bases including NORAD.

The majority of the current Members of Congress most involved in space issues who ran for reelection won.  On the House SS&T Committee, not only did Lucas win, but so did Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) and space subcommittee Ranking Member Brian Babin (R-TX).  On the House Armed Services Committee, full committee Chairman Adam Smith (D-WA), and Strategic Forces subcommittee chairman Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Ranking Member Michael Turner (R-OH) all won.  Full committee Ranking Member Mac Thornberry (R-TX) did not run.

There will be big changes on the Democratic side of the House Appropriations Committee in the next Congress because the chairs of the full committee (Nita Lowey, D-NY), Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee (José Serrano. D-NY) and Defense Subcommittee (Pete Visclosky, D-IN) did not run for reelection. The Ranking Members did and all won (Kay Granger, R-TX; Robert Aderholt, R-AL; and Ken Calvert. R-CA.)

Other than Gardner and McSally, the Senators most involved in space issues either were not up for reelection or won their contests. In the latter group are not only SASC chairman Inhofe, but SASC Ranking Member Jack Reed (D-RI), and Senate Appropriations Commerce-Justice-Science subcommittee Ranking Member Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH).

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