Commissioner Mignon Clyburn’s announcement that she is leaving the FCC within 30 days has triggered discussion within broadcast circles about possible replacements, but few names are being mentioned yet.
Politico has reported that Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer is recommending Geoffrey Starks, an assistant chief in the FCC’s Enforcement Bureau, to the White House. Presidents often defer to the Senate minority leader when filling opposing-party seats on the commission, notes Politico.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Starks has been with the commission since late 2015 and is a former senior counsel in the office of the deputy attorney general in the Justice Department. He holds a law degree from Yale.
Whoever is nominated must be confirmed by the Senate, and that would bring the FCC back to full strength. The five-member FCC is an independent agency of the federal government. The other current members are Chairman Ajit Pai and Commissioners Michael O’Rielly, Brendan Carr and Jessica Rosenworcel, the only other Democrat currently seated. FCC rules require that only three of the five commissioners can be from the same political party.
Longtime FCC observer Harry Cole at Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth says he thinks a good FCC commissioner typically has certain qualities, including a “reasonably in-depth familiarity with at least some of the regulatory areas” they’ll be overseeing.
“The less familiarity, the longer the learning curve of course. Along the same lines, I think that familiarity with the FCC’s own historical approaches to regulation is helpful both to avoid repeating mistakes from the past and to take advantage of stuff that’s worked,” Cole says.
An independent voice is also good, Cole says, one that is not so beholden to a particular ideology or industry sector. “That’s a bit tricky in view of the inherently political nature of the job in the first place,” he says.
This will be President Trump’s second nominee to the FCC. He nominated Carr in 2017 to fill an open seat after Chairman Tom Wheeler departed. Carr’s term is set to expire this year, but the president wants to extend him a full five-year term. It’s possible, as Tom Taylor reported in the NOW radio newsletter letter this week, that the nominations of Carr and Clyburn’s Democratic replacement could be packaged to help them ease through the confirmation process.
Clyburn, who had an eight-year tenure at the FCC, was nominated by President Obama; she served as acting chair for a time in 2013. Some political observers believe she could run to replace her father Jim Clyburn in Congress representing South Carolina’s Sixth District. The elder Clyburn has not announced his intentions to run for re-election this fall.