Republican takeover of the House to reshape industry oversight committees

In the House of Representatives, the Republican takeover last week means there will be new chairmen of committees critical to the oversight of broadcasters.

Republicans with pro-broadcasting records are in line to run the committees responsible for communications policy and oversight of the FCC. The top candidates 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 are popular with broadcasters, though Barton has stronger ties with the cable and telco industries.

The committee’s current chairman, Henry Waxman of California, was easily re-elected and is expected to serve as Commerce’s ranking Democrat in the new order.

Commerce’s Communications Subcommittee is also important to broadcasters. Republican Greg Walden of Oregon, who owned and operated five radio stations, is in the running for that post, sources said. Stearns and Shimkus might also be interested in the chairmanship of the subcommittee if they fail at winning the top position at the full committee.

Lamar Smith of Texas is the front-runner for chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which oversees copyright issues. Smith has a record as an ally to broadcasters.

However, the election cost broadcasters a friend. Current Communications Subcommittee Chairman Rick Boucher, a Virginia Democrat, lost to his Republican challenger Morgan Griffith. Boucher was a strong supporter of broadcasters and had taken their side in the fight against FCC plans to reallocate TV spectrum to wireless broadband.

Boucher will be missed by both broadcasters and public advocates who often oppose them. Gigi Sohn, president of Public Knowledge, an advocacy group, said “Rick Boucher’s door was always open, and he was extremely generous with his time, even after he became subcommittee chair.”

Dennis Wharton, spokesman for the NAB, said no one in Washington was more steeped in telecom knowledge than Rick Boucher. “We will miss his intellect and his Southern graciousness,” said Wharton.

With Boucher’s defeat, former Communications Subcommittee Chairman Ed Markey of Massachusetts is expected to become the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat.

In the Senate, because Democrats kept control of that body, there will be no change in the leadership of the Senate committees of importance to broadcasters.

Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia will likely stay as chairman of the Commerce Committee and John Kerry of Massachusetts will continue heading its Communications Subcommittee.