Hutchison to lead Senate commerce committee

 - August 29, 2008, 11:05 AM

Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas), ranking Republican on the Senate aviation subcommittee, has also become the ranking minority member of the full Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation following the July 29 indictment of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) on corruption charges.

Hutchison became the ranking Republican on the aviation subcommittee late last year following the retirement of Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.). She will retain that position while taking on her new leadership duties for the overall committee.

Stevens, the longest-serving Republican in the Senate, was charged with seven felony counts alleging that he lied to conceal his acceptance of $250,000 in gifts and services from a now-defunct Alaska oil services and construction company. Because he is campaigning for an eighth six-year term, he pleaded not guilty to the charges and was granted a request to go to trial on September 24.

The 84-year-old Stevens, who flew support missions for the Flying Tigers during World War II, is one of the most powerful members of the Senate. He was appointed to the upper chamber in 1968 and is second in longevity only to Sen. Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.).

Meanwhile, to comply with a Senate Republican rule, he agreed to step down temporarily from his ranking posts on the Senate Commerce Committee and the Appropriations defense subcommittee.

Owing in part to his Alaska roots, Stevens has long been a staunch supporter of general aviation. But oddly, it was his tie-breaking vote that kept a $25-per-segment user fee for most turbine-powered aircraft in the Senate Commerce Committee’s version of an FAA reauthorization bill. It was later removed.

Hutchison, meanwhile, is also considered a friend of GA, hailing from a state with 387 airports open to the public. She is also a former vice chairman of the NTSB.
She previously held a leadership position on the aviation subcommittee, serving as its chair from 2001-2002 when the GOP controlled Congress. She voted for the amendment that would have stripped the turbine user fee from the Senate bill.