WASHINGTON, D.C. (BRAIN)—Nearly all of the U.S. House candidates who have received campaign contributions from BikesPAC are expected to win reelection tomorrow.
But cycling advocates say the bigger question is which party will take over the House. A Republican assumption of power, which many analysts predict, could have far-reaching effects on federal funding for cycling projects.
Cycling’s two biggest supporters—Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.) and Rep. James Oberstar (D-Minn.)—appear headed for reelection despite the headwinds buffeting most Democratic incumbents this year, according to polling analysts at FiveThirtyEight.com and the Cook Political Report.
But if the Republicans take control of the House, Oberstar would lose his powerful position as chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee—the committee that oversees the multi-billion-dollar federal transportation bill that has channeled billions of dollars into bicycle projects.
The next Congress will have to determine the fate of the $450 billion, six-year federal transportation bill, which also funds cycling infrastructure projects. The bill has been stalled for more than a year.
Oberstar’s likely successor as chairman is Rep. John Mica, a Republican who represents a district in northwest Florida.
Another cycling supporter, Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.)—a one-time bike mechanic—would lose his seat as chairman of the Subcommitee on Highways and Transit, a key subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
Andy Clarke, president of the League of American Bicyclists, said Oberstar and DeFazio might become more effective advocates for cycling as ranking minority members on the committee.
“It may be that freed from the responsibility of chairing the committees, Reps. Oberstar and DeFazio may be freer with the things that they champion,” Clarke said. “It’s not necessarily a complete disaster if Chairman Oberstar becomes the ranking member.”
Tim Blumenthal, executive director of Bikes Belong and BikesPAC, its affiliated political action committee, said Oberstar had been an effective cycling advocate in his previous role as raking minority member on the transportation committee.
“I would argue that Oberstar, as the minority head on the committee, was maybe even more effective as an ambassador for bicycling—more free to push on our issues than he is as chairman,” Blumenthal said. “He was very, very effective when the Republicans controlled the House and he was the No. 2 guy on the committee. He was really good at crossing the aisle.”
Bikes Belong’s bigger concern, Blumenthal said, is getting a new transportation bill through Congress. Concerns over funding the measure without increasing the deficit have lead to a stalemate.
“No one’s really come up with a viable solution that’s politically acceptable to fund transportation,” he said.
BikesPAC has contributed nearly $65,000 to candidates in this election cycle, from Jan. 1, 2009 through Oct. 15, according to reports filed with the Federal Elections Commission.
The majority—$39,500—has gone to Democrats, and $24,500 to Republican candidates or PACs.
“We’ve worked very hard over the past few years to be ‘bike-partisan,’” Blumenthal said. But he acknowledged that the funding still tilts to one side.
“Historically, bicycling had more Democratic support. I would still say that our very, very best supporters tend to be Democrats,” he said, singling out Reps. Oberstar, Blumenauer and DeFazio.
“But we’ve generated increasing support from Republicans. We’ve done a better job of explaining why investments in bicycling make sense, not just for people who ride bikes, but for everybody.”
In today’s free-spending political climate, BikesPAC is a tiny presence. The 2010 midterm elections are expected to be the most expensive ever, with spending expected to top $4 billion, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, for example, has spent more than $34 million in this election, while the Service Employees International Union has spent $15.4 million, according to watchdog OpenSecrets.org.
Mica, the Florida Republican, would not necessarily be bad for cycling, Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal noted that Mica has supported cycling funding, including the multi-million-dollar, 260-mile St. Johns River to the Sea Loop Trail, which goes through his district. Earlier this month, Mica visited an elementary school in his district to recognize and support the Safe Routes to School Program—a key program for cycling advocates—calling it a “win-win” initiative.
Mica has also stated his support for mass transit projects.
However, Mica would have to accommodate the views of many Republicans who oppose spending on so-called “transportation enhancements,” which are projects for pedestrians and cyclists.
“I think we just have to be ever better at honing our message and talking about the wise and smart investment that this is in building communities,” Clarke said.
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