Rep. Sam Graves is in a tough spot.
The Missouri Republican has been a consistent and outspoken foe of building a new single terminal at Kansas City International Airport, which sits in his 6th District.
He has held town meetings designed to stir up opposition to the new facility. He has criticized the idea in press releases and interviews. Kansas City officials consider Graves the single biggest obstacle to significant improvements at the airport.
That fear is somewhat overblown. Congress usually is not heavily involved in funding new or rebuilt airport terminals. Airlines and passengers foot the bill.
As a practical matter, though, Graves remains an important roadblock to improvements at KCI. Rep. Emanuel Cleaver has said as much, and local airport boosters are working hard to convince the congressman to back away from his my-way-or-the-highway stance.
To date, they’ve had little success. That could soon change.
No one is quite sure why the congressman is so reluctant to embrace a new KCI terminal. Graves is an amateur pilot, and he perhaps believes he has some expertise in aviation matters. Like many representatives and senators, Graves travels a lot, and he might like the convenience of the current facility.
He may also sense his constituents are skeptical about a new airport terminal.
Yet news that Kansas is now pursuing a new airport should give pause to those constituents, and to Graves.
A discussion about cost and convenience at the airport terminal is important. On the other hand, if that discussion puts KCI at risk — if the airport closes — hundreds of Northland jobs would disappear at hotels, restaurants, rental car facilities and the airport itself.
Does Graves want to be the congressman who “lost” the airport? Probably not.
Interestingly, while Graves plays a critical role in the outcome at KCI, his views are less relevant in talks to move the airport to Kansas.
Gov. Sam Brownback, a fellow Republican, is pushing the Kansas option. It’s unlikely he would back away from that effort to make Graves happy, even if the congressman asks.
The chances of actually building a Kansas airport remain extremely remote. At the same time, they’re not zero. Graves is taking an enormous risk by remaining fundamentally opposed to substantially changing the terminal.
Local interests should do whatever it takes to make sure the congressman is involved in the future of the airport terminal. Rep. Graves has a responsibility to join those discussions.
Otherwise, he’ll shoulder a large part of the blame if the airport moves across the state line.