Generally speaking, the GOP takeover of the House of Representatives will likely benefit broadcasters as Republicans with pro-industry records are in line to run the committees responsible for communications policy and oversight of the FCC. Among those to watch in the House: Fred Upton of Michigan, Cliff Stearns of Florida, John Shimkus of Illinois and Joe Barton of Texas.
New House Order Looking Good For TV
The Republican takeover of the House of Representatives in midterm elections yesterday will likely benefit broadcasters as Republicans with pro-industry records are in line to run the committees responsible for communications policy and oversight of the FCC.
The top contenders for the chairmanship of the key House Commerce Committee are Fred Upton of Michigan, Cliff Stearns of Florida, John Shimkus of Illinois and Joe Barton of Texas. All have championed industry causes and are highly regarded by their home state broadcasters.
Of the four, Barton is seen as the least likely to assume the committee’s top spot, despite his current position as ranking minority member. The GOP considers him a political liability after he apologized to BP executives during a House hearing this year on the Gulf Coast oil spill. Plus, he would need a waiver from the six-year term limit for committee chairs adopted by House Republicans back in 1994. He chaired the committee prior to 2007.
Broadcasters probably won’t mind if Barton is shoved aside. His ties with cable and the telcos are considerably stronger than they are with broadcasting.
Broadcasters could also benefit if one of their own heads Commerce’s Communications Subcommittee. Hill insiders are saying that Republican Greg Walden of Oregon, who owned and operated five radio stations, is in the running for that post. Stearns and Shimkus might also make a play for the subcommittee, if they fail to snag the chairmanship of the full committee.
Over at the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees copyright matters, another broadcaster ally, Lamar Smith (Texas) is expected to take over. Radio giant Clear Channel Communications is based in Smith’s district.
“Broadcasters should feel good about working with these guys,” says former Republican FCC chairman and communications lawyer Dick Wiley. “It’s not because they are not going to be fair to other industries, but I think they will definitely hear the broadcasters out on their positions.”
The coming shift in committee leadership reflects a strong Republican resurgence in the midterm election powered by the Tea Party movement and its call for smaller government, and by general discontent about the health of the economy.
According to the Associated Press, as of this morning the Republicans had picked up 60 House seats, assuring them a healthy majority with at least 236 of the 435 seats when the new Congress convenes in January.
The Democrats managed to hold the Senate, but just barely, having lost seats in Pennsylvania, Illinois, Indiana, Arkansas, North Dakota and Wisconsin. But with key wins in Nevada, West Virginia, Connecticut and Delaware, they are assured at least 51 seats. They could pick up two more from Washington and Colorado, but as of Wednesday morning the races there were too close to call.
That means there will likely be no change in the leadership of the Senate committees of importance to broadcasters.
Jay Rockefeller (W.Va.) will likely stay atop the Commerce Committee and John Kerry (Mass.) will continue heading its Communications Subcommittee. However, both may have to cope with smaller committee majorities, reflecting the party’s losses in the Senate as a whole.
When the House Republicans reconstitute the Commerce Committee and select new leaders next January, broadcasters can hardly lose.
Fred Upton has “excellent ties” with Michigan broadcasters, says Karole White, president of the Michigan Association of Broadcasters. “We do not always agree 100%, but most of the time he wants to protect his local broadcasters. He really understands the community value and the community voice that free, over-the-air broadcasting gives to his constituents,” White explains.
Having Cliff Stearns at the Commerce Committee helm “would be a very bright day for us,” says Pat Roberts, president of the Florida Association of Broadcasters. “On any issue of critical importance for TV or radio over the last 20 years, he’s been there with us.”
Stearns understands that broadcasters are the “only real source for local news and information,” Roberts says. “He understands the role we play in emergency communication before during and after hurricanes.”
And the Florida congressman would not “take our spectrum away,” Roberts says. “He’s not going to throw us overboard.”
John Shimkus is another “great friend to broadcasters,” according to Dennis Lyle, president of the Illinois Broadcasters Association. “I’ve been in this job for 11 years, I can’t think of one legislative broadcast issue that John has ever been on the other side of the fence from us,” says the IBA executive.
“He understands our industry, he appreciates local over the air broadcasters, he totally gets the broadcast industry,” Lyle adds.
Greg Walden was a “very successful broadcaster,” says Bill Johnstone, president of the Oregon Association of Broadcasters. “He understands the business, the challenges and the opportunities facing broadcasters.”
But the news was not all good for broadcasters.
Current Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher (D-Va.) lost to his Republican challenger Morgan Griffith. Broadcasters frequently counted on Boucher’s support. Lately, he had taken their side in the fight to stave off FCC plans to reallocate TV spectrum to wireless broadband.
With Boucher’s defeat, former Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey (D-Mass.) may become the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat.
The committee’s current chairman, Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), was easily re-elected and is expected to serve as Commerce’s ranking Democrat in the new order.
Long-time broadcaster ally, John Dingell (D-Mich.), managed to hang on to his seat despite a stiff challenge.
The House Commerce Committee will look considerably different next year. In addition to Boucher, 10 other members will not be returning for various reasons.
Like Boucher, Zachary Space (D-Ohio) and Baron Hill (D-Indiana) were ousted by voters.
Five members retired: Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), Bart Stupak (D-Mich.), John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), Steve Buyer (R-Ind.) and George Radanovich.
And three gave up their House seats to seek higher office. Missouri Republican Roy Blunt was elected governor of his state. But Charlier Melancon (D-La.) lost his bid to unseat incumbent Republican Senator David Vitter and Parker Griffith (R-Ala.) fell by the wayside in the GOP Senate primary.
All 11 exiting members also happen to sit on the House Communications Subcommittee.
In the Senate, the makeup of the Commerce Committee is not likely to be significantly altered on the Democratic side.
Only two Commerce Committee Democrats, Daniel Inouye (Hawaii) and Barbara Boxer (Calif.), were up for re-election and both won.
The only Democrat not returning is Byron Dorgan (D-N.D,), who is retiring.
All four Republicans up for re-election — Jim DeMint (S.C.), John Thune (S.D.), Johnny Isakson (Ga.) and David Vitter (La.) — won.
But two Republicans vacancies were created by Sam Brownback (Kan.) and George LeMieux (Fla.).
Brownback was elected governor of Kansas and LeMieux stepped down after filling in for former Senator Mel Martinez.