COMMENT: MCAVOY ON WASHINGTON

IS THE NEXT FCC COMMISSIONER A MARTIN CLONE?

Robert McDowell, who is expected to fill the last seat on the FCC, has much in common with the chairman. Broadcasters hope that it includes a willingness to ease ownership rules.

Three years ago, when Robert McDowell kicked off his campaign for the Virginia House of Delegates at the volunteer firehouse in Vienna, Va., former Whitewater prosecutor Ken Starr was there to tell everyone what a great representative he would be.

Despite the endorsement by the Republican heavyweight, McDowell never made it to Richmond (he lost by a narrow margin). But he’s got another shot at public service, this time at the FCC where he’s been nominated to fill the last Republican vacancy.

This afternoon, he gets his hearing before the Senate Commerce Committee. If all goes well—and nobody thinks it won’t—the committee and the Senate will give their nods and he’ll soon be on his way to the eighth floor of the Portals.

There, he should be greeted warmly by Chairman Kevin Martin. His arrival will give Martin the third Republican vote he needs to start pushing forward his agenda without having to worry too much about the two Democrats. Republican Deborah Tate is the third part of the Republican majority.

“I think the three of them will work well together,” says Dick Wiley, a former FCC chairman for whom Martin once worked as a communications lawyer at Wiley, Rein & Fielding.

Martin and McDowell ought to get along. They are cut from the same Republican cloth. Both are conservative believers who came of age during the Reagan revolution. Both were educated in the ACC—Martin at University of North Carolina and Duke; McDowell at Duke. Both are southerners with young families. Both served on the Bush-Cheney recount team in Florida. Both are well plugged into the Republican machine that is running Washington these days.

BRAND CONNECTIONS

(Starr is also a common denominator. I couldn’t find out what McDowell’s connection to Starr is, but it was strong enough to get him to appear at his campaign debut. Martin worked on his Whitewater staff in 1997.)

Martin gets his political juice primarily from the administration, having served not only on the Bush-Cheney transition, but also as a White House aide. McDowell was hand picked for the FCC job by Senate Commerce Committee Chairman Ted Stevens, and he worked for one of Stevens’s protégés at CompTel, Earl Comstock.

Nobody knows where McDowell stands on broadcast issues. Fact is, he really doesn’t know much about them. He’s a telecom guy. For the past six years, he has been a lawyer and lobbyist for CompTel, a trade group for scrappy rivals of the big phone companies. If AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth were for it, McDowell and CompTel were against it.

But McDowell understands the workings of the FCC and it shouldn’t take him long to get up to speed on broadcasting and cable.

Broadcasters and newspapers publishers have been pestering a sympathetic Martin for relaxation of some of the media ownership rules, but they also understand that Martin hasn’t had the votes. As a Republican, he has been either in the minority or in a 2-2 deadlock. That will all change soon with a couple Senate votes and a nice swearing-in ceremony.

Martin will finally have his man.


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