By Douglas Messier
California State Sen. Steve Knight (R-Palmdale), a key supporter of commercial space, could be heading to Congress next year with the pending retirement of Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-Santa Clarita).
McKeon, 75, announced on Thursday that he would not seek an 11th term representing California’s 25th District, which includes parts of the aerospace-rich Antelope Valley that Knight represents in the State Legislature. Knight earlier stated that he would run for Congress if McKeon decided not to seek re-election.
Knight is one of several Republican and Democratic candidates who have already declared their intentions to run for the position. The 25th District includes the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster and the southern Antelope Valley. The region has a proud aviation and space heritage, hosting Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works as well as the facilities where the space shuttles were built. The district is home to many employees who work at nearby Edwards Air Force Base and the NASA Dryden Flight Research Center.
The state senator — whose father, William J. “Pete” Knight, flew the X-15 rocket plane — has followed in his father’s political footsteps. The elder Knight, who passed away in 2004, had represented the Antelope Valley in the State Assembly and State Senate just as his son later did.
Steve Knight has been a key backer of commercial space measures in the California Legislature. He introduced a limited liability bill designed to protect commercial space providers from passenger lawsuits that was approved with revisions. He also has introduced several other commercial space bills now being considered by legislators.
If elected, Knight would join Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield) as another supporter of commercial space in the House of Representatives. McCarthy, who is the House Majority Whip, represents the adjacent 23rd District, which includes the northern part of the Antelope Valley. The district includes the Mojave Air and Space Port, NASA Dryden, and Edwards Air Force Base.
Both Knight and McCarthy have worked with Mojave Air and Space Port CEO and General Manager Stu Witt on measures to advance commercial space activities in both Sacramento and Washington. McCarthy and Witt testified last month at a hearing on commercial space held by the House Subcommittee on Space.