If airline and orbital miles were interchangeable, Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Arizona) would never have to purchase a plane ticket. Kelly, who logged more than 22 million miles orbiting the earth as an astronaut, hopes voters will upgrade his status and grant him a full six-year term in November 2022.
Currently, he’s on “standby.”
Facing the prospect of a spirited Republican challenge next year, the freshman Democrat hopes to employ the advantage of incumbency to keep his job. That’s growing increasingly difficult, given the poor presidential record of Joe Biden.
So, Kelly welcomes the chance to focus on Arizona issues, as he can be seen an advocate for the state. That was the case earlier this month when he chaired a water and power subcommittee hearing dealing with drought in the west.
Sure enough, Sen. Kelly’s scripted opening remarks included a shoutout to the home folks: “We’ve got this old saying in Arizona: ‘Whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.’”
There’s accuracy in that anecdote, as Mark Kelly is discovering.
An emerging controversy over water has delayed cocktail hour indefinitely, and this fight goes well beyond the Colorado River and a shrinking Lake Mead. It also winds its way through the high-rent headquarters of big money environmental pressure groups, the cavernous halls of the Pentagon and, perhaps most dangerously, the “other chamber” on Capitol Hill.
The radical leftists in the House who so often outmaneuver Speaker Nancy Pelosi have also thrown a monkey wrench into Sen. Kelly’s re-election plans. It comes in the form of the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), and a House-passed provision concerning an acronym that Mark Kelly may come to regard as a four-letter word — at least politically.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, comprise a major class of heat-resistant chemicals found in products like nonstick pans, adhesives, wire insulation and waterproof clothes. PFAS are even used in spacesuits, like the one Mark Kelly wore on his walks outside the space shuttle. House Democrats thrust the “PFAS Action Act of 2021” into the NDAA, because it wouldn’t likely pass both chambers as a standalone piece of legislation.
As written, the PFAS verbiage is so extreme that it would derail military procurement. It was even too much for the Biden White House, which quietly pushed back in a memo from the office of management and budget, noting such a provision “would prohibit DoD from procuring a wide range of items.”
While the manufacture of PFAS has been phased out in the United States over long-term health concerns — primarily residues from fire-fighting foams — it is still produced overseas. Because our military has about 750 installations internationally, an immediate halt to buying all products that might contain PFAS would basically render the supply system useless.
Prior to his time as an astronaut, naval aviator Mark Kelly and his shipmates aboard the USS Midway relied on PFAS, most notably contained in aqueous film foaming foam (AFFF). Our Navy regards AFFF as the most effective way to extinguish fuel oil fires aboard ship. The development of AFFF occurred in the late 1960s, following the tragic fire aboard the USS Forrestal off the coast of Vietnam. That blaze was narrowly escaped by another naval aviator who later served Arizona in the Senate: John McCain.
In the 2020 special election to fill the late Sen. McCain’s seat, Mark Kelly persuaded Arizona voters to favorably compare him by emphasizing similar military service, while downplaying different party labels. But while McCain relished “going rogue” in the Senate, Kelly cast himself as a “practical problem solver.”
Now that he is completing the remainder of McCain’s final term, striking a balance between environmental protection and military readiness will test that claim.
The most important principle for an officeholder to remember is what they see and hear at home. This columnist came to understand that Arizonans’ concerns about clean water and a strong national defense are not mutually exclusive. Sen. Kelly faces a similar tutorial.
Undoubtedly, the environmental lobby will bring considerable financial resources to the political process. (After all, they’re called “green” for a reason.) Should Sen. Kelly choose to follow their priorities, Arizona voters could very well make it a priority to limit his stay in the Senate to two years.
In just nine months, the bumbling of the Biden administration has turned the political skies unfriendly for Democrats. Given his considerable experience aloft, Mark Kelly knows he’ll need to keep his seatbelt fastened.
There is severe turbulence ahead.