Although long expected, Kevin Martin will be officially named Powell’s replacement as Chair of the FCC today.
For my personal take on Martin, see below.
Kevin Martin was appointed in 2001 to take over a vacancy from exiting Republican Furchgott-Roth (for whom he worked as an advisor). Martin, a North Carolina resident, was an early volunteer in the Bush 2000 campaign and one of W’s chief soldiers on the ground in Florida in 2000. He did a stint in the White House briefly until the Senate confirmed him for the FCC in July ’01. He is personally well connected with the Bush people, which as anyone following politics in the last five years knows is essential in D.C. these days.
My first real meeting with Martin was in the fall of ’01. As an incoming Commissioner, he asked to meet with us at Media Access Project to do a get acquainted meeting. This got our attention. MAP is well respected, to be sure, but this sort of outreach from a Republican was unheard of in my experience. We had a pleasant brown bag lunch with him and his media assistant, Catherine Bohigian. My impression was of an intelligent, soft-spoken lawyer with a free market ideology tempered by a respect for the Commission’s rules and processes.
Martin was very emphatic on this point. He was not one to play games. He believed in enforcing the rules that were on the books and changing them through the rule making process if he didn’t agree with them. He disliked the games that sometime get played of burying items or dismissing things on a procedural technicality. His promise to us was to always listen when we came to make our case, work together in areas of common ground, disagree where we disagreed, but he would always let us know where we stood and he would resolve matters quickly so that we could appeal to the federal courts if we didn’t like it.
In his four years so far, Martin has stuck by that. Of course, there is always a difference between a person as Commissioner and a person as Chair (one of Powell’s chief failings was his slowness in shifting his style from that of minority Commissioner to that of the more neutral role of Chairman). But I am hopeful that Martin’s tenure will be noteworthy for the traits he has displayed as a Commissioner. A willingness to listen to the public interest community, a willingness to work on common goals, and a determination to enforce existing law and protect Commission procedure.
On my substantive agenda, he is worse than Powell. Martin fully supported Powell’s efforts to eliminate ownership limits and does not believe in imposing substantive public interest obligations on broadcasters. He is far more aggressive on indecency than Powell. Powell took up the indecency fight because he had no choice politically; Martin fully supports the indecency rules and believes in aggressive enforcement. Martin was pushing for stricter enforcement of indecency for years before the Jackson/Timberlake business forced Powell’s hand.
On open spectrum, Martin is generally favorable, but no champion in the way Powell was. I do not expect Martin to approve the “unlicensed in the broadcast bands” proceeding, for example. If the federal government shakes more spectrum loose for unlicensed, he’ll be all for it. But I cannot imagine Martin supporting unlicensed spectrum against the interests of incumbent licensees. He just doesn’t believe in it the way Powell does.
On open access/telecom competition (including the mergers), we will need to see. Martin certainly has the general free market/libertarian philosophy that is the hallmark of the administration. On the other hand, his bitterest fight with Powell (earning him the permanent enimity of the true free market ideologues like the Cato Institute) was his determination to keep certain Baby Bell facilities open to competitors (a decision ultimately reversed by the D.C. Circuit).
In many ways, I expect Martin to be a more effective Chairman than Powell (which is no good news for me, given his agenda). He has cultivated good relations with his fellow Commissioners and, unlike many of his fellow Republican cabinet secretaries, with the public interest community. Unlike Powell, he has an ear for politics and an understanding of why it matters (Powell, the confident ideologue, never cared about politics until he learned he couldn’t ignore it).
Stay tuned . . . .