WASHINGTON — The White House has abandoned its first choice for chairman of the Federal Communications Commission and will now nominate William Kennard to replace FCC topper Reed Hundt, sources confirmed Thursday.
President Clinton is also expected to tap Gloria Tristani, a state utility regulator in New Mexico, to fill another vacant seat at the FCC.
News of the two nominations comes just days after Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.) said he would block, as a professional consideration, any candidate who was unacceptable to Sen. Ernest Hollings (D-S.C.). Hollings had been pushing for his former aide, Ralph Everett, to get the nod. He also adamantly opposed the White House’s efforts to install Clinton aide Kathleen Wallman as FCC chairman.
Kennard had already been in line for a commission seat at the FCC, but he is now cleared for the chairmanship, confirmed a source close to Kennard.
For the past three years, Kennard has served as the FCC’s general counsel. Although he is closely tied to Hundt’s activist public interest regime, Kennard is widely respected in Washington, where he has worked as a communications lawyer for most of his career. Kennard also spent a brief period at the National Assn. of Broadcasters, where he specialized in First Amendment issues.
During the last few years, Kennard has supervised a legal department that has won several important legal decisions, including a Supreme Court case that upheld the FCC’s authority to regulate indecent material on television.
In contrast to Hundt, who is regularly described as abrasive, Kennard has a low-key style. “With Kennard, at least you know he is listening to your side of the story,” said one communications attorney recently. He would be the first African-American to head the 60-year-old regulatory agency.
Tristani, a lifelong Democrat, currently holds an elected post on the State Corporation Commission in New Mexico, where her main duty is regulating local telephone service. Her nomination is not only aimed at breaking the stalemate that had developed between Hollings and the White House, but also to assuage senators from rural states who felt underrepresented at the FCC. Tristani is the granddaughter of former U.S. Sen. Dennis Chavez (D-N.M.), who spent 30 years in Congress.
Also still waiting for the official nod for a commission slot is Justice Dept. official Michael Powell. Unlike Kennard and Tristani, Powell is a Republican. He is also the son of retired Army Gen. Colin Powell.
Under current rules, the president can only name three of the five commissioners from his own party. The second Republican nominee is House staffer Harold Furchtgott-Roth, whose name has already been sent to the Senate for confirmation.
If all of the nominations proceed as planned, there will be four new commissioners at the FCC this fall. The only holdover will be Democrat Susan Ness. Current incumbents Republican Rachelle Chong and Democrat James Quello have known for months that they would not be renominated to another five-year term.