WASHINGTON — Crusading FCC commish Gloria Tristani announced Monday that she will ankle her post Sept. 7, leaving only one Democrat to duke it out with the Republican majority while a replacement is found.
Tristani had been making noises for months about heading home to New Mexico, where she is expected to enter next year’s U.S. Senate race. Washington insiders, however, thought the Democratic regulator would stick it out at the FCC at least until the end of the year. Her term doesn’t officially expire until 2003.
Her departure means that Commissioner Michael Copps, a Democrat, will be the lone liberal voice at the FCC during the time it takes President Bush and the U.S. Senate to decide on and confirm a new commissioner.
Under the rules of the game, the Bush administration must appoint a Democrat. Names being floated include congressional aide Andy Levin and telecom lobbyist David Krone. Filling the vacant FCC seat is expected to take several months, if not longer.
Appointed to the regulatory agency in 1997 by former President Clinton, Tristani could always be counted on to argue in favor of the public interest. She was an outspoken critic of media consolidation and recently blasted her Republican colleagues for approving News Corp.’s merger with Chris-Craft.
“Preserving and promoting a diverse media is essential to our democracy,” Tristani said at the time. “Today’s decision further diminishes the marketplace of ideas.”
FCC topper Michael Powell gave Tristani a tongue-lashing in return, saying her “sweeping assertion” was not only “offensive, but absurd.”
Monday, though, Powell had only good words.
“It has been both an honor and a privilege to work with Commissioner Tristani on the many tough issues facing the commission since that day in early November 1997 when we were both sworn in as commissioners,” Powell said.
“Since that time, (her) leadership on issues such as the V-chip and her tireless efforts in bringing communications services to underserved areas have served the public interest well and will be sorely missed,” he added.
Consumer advocates lamented her departure, seeing her as the exception in not bowing to corporate lobbyists or political interests.
“Gloria Tristani has been a singular commissioner, seldom seen in the history of the FCC,” Center for Digital Democracy exec director Jeff Chester said. “That this is exceptional is itself somewhat tragic.”
Chester said her exit leaves the FCC “without significant public interest representation.”
Tristani has been vigilant when it comes to citizen complaints regarding obscenity over the airwaves.
“What sets Gloria apart as a public servant is a very special combination of keen intelligence, enthusiasm and an unflagging commitment to ensure that every American participates fully in the great information technology revolution of our time,” Copps said.
When Tristani departs, Powell will be the only veteran on the commission, relatively speaking. Copps and GOP commissioners Kathleen Abernathy and Kevin Martin are recent Bush appointees.
Tug of war
In regard to Tristani’s successor, key politicos in the House of Representatives are pushing for Bush to appoint Levin, an aide to Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.).
Dingell is the Democrat’s top man on the powerful House Commerce Committee. Both Dingell and Rep. W.J. “Billy” Tauzin (R-La.), chair of commerce, think it’s only fair that they get their pick, since Senate leadership got its man in putting forth Copps.
Another contender for the FCC slot is Krone, who has lobbied for both AT&T and TCI.
Upon returning to New Mexico, Tristani is expected to launch her Senate campaign. If she is victorious in the Democratic primary, she likely would face longtime Republican incumbent Sen. Pete Domenici in the general election.