Former Astronaut Mark Kelly’s “Next Mission”—Running to Defeat GOP U.S. Senator Martha McSally February 17, 2019
Princeton University history and public affairs Professor Julian Zelizer said it all. He described the Democrats’ control of the House as giving them “a bully pulpit of their own.” He stated that within one month of officially retaking the lower congressional chamber, Democrats “have constrained Donald’s ability to dominate the national conversation.” Zelizer added, “for the first time, his endless stream of tweets has been pushed a little further into the background (cnn.com, 2/09/19).” Imagine what a double “bully pulpit” Democrats would possess if they recaptured the Senate in 2020 in addition to retaining the House. Obstructionist/ “filibuster king” Mitch McConnell (R-KY) would no longer be Senate Majority Leader. Both chambers under “Blue” control could pass infrastructure and better health care reform legislation. And hopefully, an elected Democratic President would be in office to sign these bills. Senate investigative committees could, like the House, then conduct proper oversight of major issues.
How could Democrats retake the Senate in 2020 when the GOP now has a 47-53 advantage after gaining two additional seats in 2018? In order to take back the Senate in 2020, Democrats would have to flip at least 3 seats to have a 50-50 advantage if “Team Blue” wins the Presidency. A Democratic VP could then break any ties. If Trump, unfortunately, wins again, we would have to take back 4 Senate seats so that VP Mike Pence could not play tiebreaker. In 2020, at least 4 GOP seats are vulnerable. We should, however, aim for taking at least 5 “Red” seats because AL Dem. Sen. Doug Jones will face an uphill climb against a non-Roy “pervert” Moore GOP candidate. In any scenario, one of those vulnerable GOP Senators is AZ’s Martha McSally. Mc Sally narrowly lost her 11/ 2018 race to replace retiring GOP Sen. Jeff Flake to Democrat Kyrsten Sinema (CINEMA). McSally was appointed by AZ GOP Governor Doug Ducey to fill Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) seat, after McCain’s 8/2018 death from brain cancer. In 2020, McSally would be running to finish the last two years of McCain’s term (AP 2/12/19). The 2020 race in swingy AZ will be one of the most closely contested Senate 2020 contests.
On 2/12/2019, the Democrats landed a top tier recruit in former astronaut Mark Kelly. Kelly (54) announced his candidacy in a very impressive four-minute video posted to his Twitter account. In this video, Kelly declared that his “next mission” is to be a U.S. Senator from Arizona (cnn.com, Stracqualursi, V., Merica, D., 2/12/19). He spoke of his first experience witnessing a sunrise from a space shuttle and understanding “when you get into space, that we’re all in this together (cnbc.com, @KevinWilliamB,2/12/19).” He added, “I care about people, I care about the state of Arizona, I care about this nation. So because of that, I decided that I’m launching a campaign for the United States Senate.” He appeared in this video with his wife, former AZ Dem. Congressmember Gabrielle (Gabby) Giffords. On 1/08/2011, Giffords was shot in the head by a gunman fixated on her, but miraculously survived. In that attack at a meet-and-greet event, 6 other people were killed and Giffords was among the 14 injured (Bell, M. & Buck, J., voices.washingtonpost.com, 1/14/11). Because of her wound, she had to leave Congress to concentrate on rehabilitation (cnn.com, Stracqualursi & Merica, Cooper, AP, tucson.com, 2/12/19). In his video, Captain Kelly also stated, “I learned a lot from being an astronaut. I learned a lot from being a pilot in the Navy. I learned a lot about solving problems from being an engineer. But what I learned from my wife is how you use policy to improve people’s lives.” In this video announcement, Kelly highlighted climate change, health care, wage stagnation, and job growth as issues Arizonans will face. In this announcement, Kelly attacked a “retreat from science and data and facts (cnn.com, 2/12/19).” Meet Democrat Mark Kelly.
New Jersey native Mark Edward Kelly is the identical twin brother of Scott Kelly who also became an astronaut. Both of these brothers went into space. Mark’s parents were police officers (twinstuff.com, Lehren, M., caldwells.patch.com, 1/08/11). Mark received his 1986 BS in Marine Engineering, with honors, from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy. In 1994, Kelly was awarded an MS degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the U.S. Naval’s Postgraduate School (jsc.nasa.gov/Bios, 10/09). Kelly became a naval aviator in 12/1987 and received initial training on the A-6E Intruder attack aircraft. He flew 39 combat missions from the aircraft carrier USS Midway during Operation Desert Storm. From 6/1993-6/1994, he attended the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School. He logged more than 5,000 hours in more than 50 different aircraft and made over 375 carrier landings (jsc.nasa.gov/Bios, 10/09). He has received 18 awards and decorations (cnn.com, 10/06/11).
In 1996, NASA selected Kelly and his brother to be Space Shuttle pilots. Mark Kelly has logged over 54 days in space (jsc.nasa.gov/Bios, 10/09). Kelly flew his first mission into space in 12/2001 as pilot of the STS-108, on the Endeavour (jsc.nasa.gov/Bios, 10/09). In 7/2006, Kelly served as pilot for STS-121 Discovery, the first Shuttle mission to launch after the 2/2003 Columbia shuttle disaster. During this flight, Kelly discussed the risks of flying the Space Shuttle and tested new equipment (jsc.nasa.gov/Bios, 10/09). On 5/16/2011, STS-134 launched with Kelly commander of this Endeavour mission. Kelly stayed as commander of the mission, even though his wife, Cong. Giffords had been critically shot in 1/2011.Despite this tragedy, NASA was confident in Kelly’s ability to continue with this mission (nasa.gov/home/hqnews, 2/04/11).
Kelly met Giffords on a 2003 trip to China as part of a trade mission. He had been previously married and had two daughters. Kelly married Giffords on 11/10/2007. Members of his shuttle crew attended the ceremony. Former Clinton Labor Secretary Robert Reich toasted: “To a bride who moves at a velocity that exceeds anyone else in Washington, and a groom who moves at a velocity of 17,000 miles per hour (nytimes.com, Anderson, J., 12/02/07).” When Cong. Giffords was shot, Kelly immediately flew from Houston to Tucson to be with her and stayed at her bedside as she struggled to live and recover. Kelly called the month of 1/2011, when the assassination attempt occurred, “the hardest time of his life. He expressed thanks for the great outpouring of prayers and wishes for Gabby and believed that those prayers had helped (nytimes.com, Lacey & Herszenhorn, 1/09/11, youtube.com/watch, 2/04/11). Kelly retired from NASA and the Navy on 10/01/2011 as a Captain to attend to his wife (foxnews.com, 6/21/11).
Since his retirement, Kelly has been an advocate for gun control. In 2013, after the 2012 Sandy Hook elementary school Newtown, Ct. gun massacre, Kelly and wife Gabby formed a political action committee called “Americans for Responsible Solutions.” It supports Second Amendment rights to own guns, but promotes responsible firearm ownership that “keeps guns out of the hands of dangerous people like criminals, terrorists, and the mentally ill.” On 3/13/2013, Kelly told Fox News that “any bill that does not include a universal background check is a mistake.” In 2016, the “Americans for Responsible Solutions” joined the “Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence” and launched a joint organization known as “Giffords (americansforresponsiblesolutions.org, 4/03/13, huffingtonpost.com, Edwards-Levy, A., 4/03/13, giffords.org).” Kelly is an active speaker on the topics of gun control and his astronaut experiences (kepplerspeakers.com, 2/2016). Kelly and Giffords have pushed Congress for years to enact gun control with little success. In recent years, they have shifted their focus to state legislatures helping to strengthen background checks and domestic violence protections (AP, latimes.com, 2/12/19).
Kelly is a co-founder and advisor of the Tucson-based near-space exploration company “World View Enterprises.” He is part of an independent safety advisory panel composed of human spaceflight safety experts (worldview.space, spaceex.com). In 2011, Kelly co-authored with his wife, “Gabby: A Story of Courage, Love and Resilience,” about the assassination attempt on his wife and her long road to recovery. In 2014, Kelly and Gabby co-authored a book titled, “Enough: Our Fight to Keep America Safe from Gun Violence.” Kelly has authored a best-selling children’s book “Mousetronaut: Based on a Partially True Story (Giffords, Kelly, & Zaslow, 11/15/11, nytimes.com/best-sellers, 10/28/12).
Kelly will probably not be unopposed in the Democratic primary. Several other contenders may enter it, including third-term 7th Congressional District Cong. Ruben Gallego of Phoenix (AP, latimes.com, 2/12/19). Kelly may have a very rough primary battle. However, IMHO, Kelly’s stronger statewide recognition and personal experience with scientific and controversial political issues makes him the best nominee to take on well-known GOP Senate appointee Martha McSally. In my next blog post, I will discuss Martha McSally and Kelly’s chances to defeat her.