In a move that could bolster the fortunes of the San Fernando Valley's ailing aerospace industry, Rep. Howard P. (Buck) McKeon won a seat Thursday on the powerful House National Security Committee and vowed to push for renewed production of the B-2 stealth bomber.
The sought-after committee post will give the Santa Clarita Republican a say in a host of defense-related issues essential for Southern California, from the funding of weapons systems to the staffing of the armed forces.
McKeon's 25th Congressional district--which stretches east from Chatsworth and covers Santa Clarita and part of the Antelope Valley--includes Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale and numerous aerospace contractors and subcontractors. Many of his constituents are employees at Edwards Air Force Base.
"Because of the aerospace companies in our district, this is very important," said Bob Cochran, McKeon's chief of staff. "We are now going to be in the middle of discussions on the defense budget. All of Southern California has been hit hard by defense cutbacks, and now Buck can have a voice. He believes our military readiness has been handicapped."
In recent months, McKeon has worked with the incoming committee chairman, Rep. Floyd Spence (R-S.C.), to keep the subcontractor industrial base for the B-2 intact. He plans to push during the 104th Congress for production of additional aircraft and has invited Spence and the entire committee to visit the Palmdale base next year.
"This committee appointment is important for the defense of our country, but it's also important for our jobs," McKeon said in an interview. "I want to fight to get more B-2s."
The former Santa Clarita mayor will be one of 27 Republicans on the panel, which until recently was known as the Armed Services Committee. There will be 23 Democratic committee members, including Rep. Ronald V. Dellums (D-Oakland), who had been chairman.
From the moment he went to Congress in 1992, McKeon, who co-owns a chain of Western clothing stores, has worked aggressively to win a slot on the defense panel. Instead, he was appointed to the Public Works and Transportation Committee, a post he will give up when the House convenes next month.
McKeon's first-year efforts did win him the freshman class presidency, which allowed him to carve out a niche among his colleagues.
After the Republicans seized control of the House last month, expanding the number of GOP slots on all committees, McKeon poured on the pressure again with dozens of telephone calls to lawmakers. A key development came when California's Republican delegation endorsed McKeon for the job.
"I've been working for two years to build relationships," he said.
Not everything, however, has gone according to plan for McKeon.
He endorsed Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) for Speaker and Rep. Richard Armey (R-Texas) for majority leader, but his luck ran out there. The House Republicans' No. 3 spot went to Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), and not Rep. Bob Walker (R-Penn.), whom McKeon had backed.
Still up in the air is whether McKeon will win a subcommittee chairmanship on the Education and Labor Committee.