The Democratic Caucus voted Thursday to name Calif. Rep. Henry Waxman as chairman of the House Energy & Commerce Committee, which oversees the FCC, the DTV transition and other communications issues. That's according to Waxman's office, which said the word came down only moments before.
Waxman replaces longtime chairman Rep. John Dingell (D-MI), one of the longest-serving House members, let alone Democrats, who has had good relations with broadcasters.
There has been concern among broadcasters over the past few elections, particularly after redistricting tightened Dingell's re-election races that Dingell could lose and long-standing media critic Waxman, the second in line behind Dingell in terms of seniority on the committee, would get the top spot.
Waxman made no friends in the broadcast news operations, for example, when he grilled network news heads, NBC in particular, after the some missed calls in the razor-thin 2000 presidential race. He has also pushed for free airtime for candidates.
Back in 2001, Waxman tried unsuccessfully to get NBC to turn over an internal videotape that allegedly shows GE Chairman Jack Welch urging news executives to call the presidential election for George W. Bush (http://www.broadcastingcable.com/article/CA176125.html?q=Waxman+NBC+News)..
Waxman is also familiar to media companies from his efforts to increase regulations on over-the-counter drug advertising, his concern about product placement, and cracking down on media depictions of smoking.
In a letter on his Web site declaring he was going after the post, Waxman suggested he was the better man for the job, saying "we will need the very best leadership in Congress and our committees to succeed."
He listed energy, climate change and health care among his priorities, but made no mention of communications.
One theory on Waxman's surprise move to wrest the committee chairmanship from Dingell was that it paved the way for tougher energy policy. Dingell has also been a friend to the auto industry businesses in his district, though Dingell backers said he had the creds and determination to handle tough energy policy as well.
There have already been major shifts atop the Senate Commerce Committee, with current Chairman Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii) moving to Appropriations, Senator Jay Rockefeller taking the Commerce post, and former chairman and ranking member Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) losing his seat after a conviction on failing to report as gifts work done on his house by a company with business before the committee.
Commenting on the changing of the guard, one veteran broadcast lobbyist said the change was “not good” for that industry.
"The one thing you always had with Dingell was a professional staff that really understood your issues,” he said. "For Waxman, he really hasn't played in our area, so this is a brand new deal."
That means Telecom Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-MA) will likely have a larger roll in shepherding those issues as Waxman concentrates on energy policy and other areas.
But the lobbyist says that one constituency that might applaud the vote was the creative community on copyright issues. "I would suspect he would be very sympathetic because of Hollywood being in his district. If there is a winner in all this it is probably the Hollywood studios."
“Well, this was clearly a change year and I congratulate my colleague Henry Waxman on his success today. I will work closely with him on the issues facing the Energy and Commerce Committee and for a smooth transition,” he said in a statement.
“What will not change, however, and what will never change, is my commitment to the working men and women of the 15th Congressional District of Michigan who have honored me with the opportunity to represent them here in Washington,” he added. “That commitment – to protecting and creating jobs, to providing health care for all Americans, to working to getting our state and nation’s economy back on track – is a fight I will continue to wage in Washington.”