Indiana state senator Brandt Hershman has close ties to Vice President Pence. Others in the running include Jeffrey A. Eisenach, Mark A. Jamison and Roslyn Layton. In the mix to fill the Democrat vacancy on the commission is former commissioner Jessica Rosenworcel.
Hershman Is Front Runner For FCC GOP Slot
Ajit Pai’s promotion to FCC chairman earlier this week leaves the Republicans with a 2-1 majority at the agency for the foreseeable future, easing the pressure on President Donald Trump to fill the commission’s two vacant commission seats. But the jockeying for Trump’s nod for the additional slots has already begun.
Brandt Hershman, an Indiana state senator who worked closely with Vice President Michael Pence while he was Indiana governor, is the clear favorite for the FCC’s remaining GOP vacancy, industry insiders say.
The leading candidate for the agency’s Democratic vacancy appears to be Jessica Rosenworcel, who stepped down as a commissioner late last year when her five-year run as an Obama administration appointee expired, those sources say.
But in the wake of President Trump’s victory, industry insiders are far more interested in the pick for the GOP vacancy than the Democratic seat because it’s the Republican majority that will be calling the shots at the agency, at least for the next four years.
“It doesn’t really matter,” said one industry lobbyist as to who eventually gets the nod for the Democratic slot.
Hershman, who is currently majority leader of the Indiana state senate, is a longtime political ally of VP Pence, who is no stranger to broadcasting himself. Pence hosted a conservative radio talk show in Indiana in the 1990s, describing himself as “Rush Limbaugh on decaf.”
Hershman, who is a pro-deregulatory attorney, conservative Republican and a Trump supporter, has carved out a reputation as the go-to expert on telecommunications issues in the Indiana general assembly.
He was a primary sponsor of Indiana legislation that deregulated basic phone rates and shifted video franchising authority from the cities and local governmental entities to the state in 2006, sources say.
In addition, Hershman advised former Rep. Steve Buyer, (R-Ind.), who was then a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, on the Telecommunications Act of 1996, according to a person close to the issue.
Hershman, who is declining comment on his record, was a district operations manager for Buyer from 1993 until January 2011, according to his bio.
The 1996 act deregulated basic cable TV rates, loosened broadcast ownership limits and extended broadcast license renewal terms from five years to eight.
Hershman would be a “tremendous” choice for FCC commissioner, says Dave Arland, executive director of the Indiana Broadcasters Association. “He’s a very bright guy and he listens to all sides before making a decision.
“If the question is who is most knowledgeable about communications issues in Indiana and who is well connected to incoming Vice President Mike Pence, that’s Brandt,” Arland adds.
“He’s definitely the leader of telecom efforts in the state,” added Matt Greller, CEO of Accelerate Indiana Municipalities, an association that represents the interests of the state’s local governments.
Along with attending to his legislative duties, Hershman, 50, manages his family farm in northern Indiana and is a partner with his engineer wife, Lisa, in DeNovo Group, a business process and reengineering firm. The firm’s clients include the Department of Defense, a source said.
Hershman, who was originally elected to the Indiana state general assembly in 2000, was briefly a reporter for the now-defunct Vidette-Messenger in Valparaiso, Ind.
According to his bio, he also worked on the personal correspondence for former President George H.W. Bush as a White House writer from 1989 to 1991.
In his spare time, Hershman enjoys playing basketball and downhill skiing.
Other potential candidates believed to possibly have a shot at the GOP FCC seat include three of the four Republicans who served as FCC liaisons for the Trump transition team:
- Jeffrey A. Eisenach, a long-time Washington telecom policy insider and economist who favors free markets.
- Mark A. Jamison, a University of Florida economist with expertise in telephone and public utilities issues.
- Roslyn Layton, a Pittsburgh native who is currently a fellow at Denmark’s Aalborg University, according to her website.
All three of the economists are affiliated with the American Enterprise Institute’s Center for the Internet, Communications and Technology Policy, and all three have advocated shifting much of the FCC’s current authority to other federal agencies and oppose the agency’s net-neutrality regulations, which are intended to require Internet service providers like Comcast and AT&T to treat internet traffic equally.
Eisenach and Jamison declined to comment on their plans. Layton did not respond to emails seeking comment.
The fourth member of the Trump FCC transition team — David Morken, co-founder and CEO of Raleigh, N.C.-based Bandwidth Inc., a communications software company, and chairman of Republic Wireless, a “WiFi-first” wireless phone service — is not believed to be lobbying for an FCC post, according to a source close to the former Marine.
However, he could be an influential behind-the-scenes player in setting FCC policy, bringing a different regulatory perspective than the other transition team members.
Morken, who supports the GOP-opposed net neutrality rules, was included on the transition team after Chip Pickering, a former GOP congressman from Tennessee who now is CEO of trade association Incompas, and other Internet industry executives pointed out that the team lacked a business executive.
Incompas, according to the association’s website, represents competitive telecom providers. Its members include Bandwidth, Amazon, Facebook, Google Fiber, Microsoft, T-Mobile and Twitter.
“It’s clear to see why the Trump team wanted to add an innovator with real world business experience to help balance out a group of academics,” said an Incompass spokesperson.
Morken declined comment on how he got on the transition team.
Other long-shot candidates for the GOP slot include:
- David Quinalty, an aide to Senate Commerce Committee Chairman John Thune (R-S.D.).
- David Redl, a House Energy and Commerce Committee staffer who previously worked as an attorney for CTIA–The Wireless Association.
- Keith Murphy, SVP government relations at Viacom. Murphy previously served as an aide to NAB President Gordon Smith when the latter was a Republican U.S. senator from Oregon.
Trump has no interest in reinstalling the regulatory-minded Rosenworcel at the FCC, but the new president will likely have to compromise with Senate Democrats to fill the open GOP slot, and Rosenworcel, a former Senate aide, appeared to have some support from Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., for another go-round at the agency as of earlier this year.
At deadline, Rosenworcel could not be reached for comment.
Pai himself could figure into a grand compromise package for FCC nominees. His original term as commissioner expired last June and he is now in a grace period that expires at the end of this year. If he is to serve beyond that, Trump will have to renominate him and the Senate will have to reconfirm him.
On a related note, the Trump transition team reportedly endorsed a plan that would shift much of the FCC’s existing authority over mergers and consumer protection to the FTC, generally tracking recommendations that transition team members Eisenach and Layton formally pitched for congressional consideration three years ago in the name of enhancing regulatory efficiency.
“The largest bulk of the commission’s current structure would be merged with the FTC,” said Eisenach and Layton, along with several other of their colleagues at the American Enterprise Institute think tank, in a Jan. 31, 2014, letter to Rep. Greg Walden, who is chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and previously chaired the committee’s telecommunications subcommittee.
“Where other agencies with duplicative or complementary functions or resources exist those functions and resources previously assigned to the FCC would be transferred to its sister agency,” the economists added.
Still one key industry source tells TVNewsCheck that the prospects for the plan, which would have to be approved by Congress, are slim at best.
Eisenach declined comment.