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2nd term for FCC’s Chong looks unlikely

FCC Commissioner Rachelle Chong’s flickering hope for a second term appears to have been snuffed out Wednesday when powerful House Telecommunications subcommittee chairman Billy Tauzin (R-La.) publicly threw his support to candidate Michael Powell.

In a letter to Senate Commerce Committee chairman John McCain (R-Ariz.), Tauzin wrote, “I want to add my voice to those supporting the nomination of Michael Powell for the vacant Republican seat on the Federal Communications Commission.” Hill sources say the public release of Tauzin’s Feb. 26 letter indicates a deal has been cut that will lead to Powell taking over Chong’s office when her term expires in June.

Under FCC bylaws, President Clinton is allowed to nominate three FCC commissioners from his party, leaving two slots for Republicans.

Last month, Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R-Miss.) asked the White House to nominate Harold Furchtgott-Roth to the first Republican vacancy. It now appears Powell has been cleared for the second Republican vacancy, which will open up once Chong’s current term expires.

Powell, 33, is the chief of staff at the Justice Dept.’s antitrust division. He is also the son of retired U.S. Army Gen. Colin Powell.Although Chong initially expressed ambivalence about a second term, she recently took the unusual step of publicly campaigning for reappointment. Some public interest groups have questioned the propriety of a regulator campaigning for another term. In a letter to Chong, the National Taxpayers Union wrote: “We are deeply disturbed by reports … that you are asking industry groups to support your nomination … at the same time that you are making decisions that affect these industries in very significant ways.”

Chong’s campaign for reappointment led to at least one public endorsement — from National Assn. of Broadcasters prexy Eddie Fritts. Chong has defended the interests of broadcasters during the past three years, and she staunchly denies putting pressure on any regulated group to publicly support her for a second term.

“I believe that (my) support was motivated by my track record at the FCC — that of a fair-minded public servant who votes on the merits of all issues as I see them,” wrote Chong recently. Her office refused to comment on the issue Wednesday.