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Dingell Loses Commerce Chair to Waxman

The committee has jurisdiction over communications matters that affect radio.

In the House of Representatives, Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman of California succeeded in wresting away the Energy and Commerce Committee chairmanship from Michigan Democrat John Dingell on Thursday.

The change has ramifications for broadcasters as the committee has jurisdiction over communications matters.

It occurs three months before Dingell was set to become the longest-serving chairman in the House; observers say the vote also up-ends the seniority system Democrats generally honor when it comes to committee assignments.

House Democrats voted 137–122 in favor of the 69-year-old Waxman, currently the number two Democrat on the committee. Though the Commerce committee has jurisdiction over communications, consumer protection issues and the drug industry, observers believe Waxman’s campaign was based on differences with Dingell over environmental policies.

The 82-year-old Dingell had chaired the House committee from 1981 to 1994, when Republicans took control of the House, became ranking Dem on the committee and then regained the chair in 2007. Over the years, Dingell had strongly defended his home state’s auto industry.

Waxman said he had argued to Democratic leadership that the committee needed a change to pass Democratic priorities like climate change, health reform and energy policies. “Seniority is important, but it should not be a grant of property rights to be chairman for three decades or more,” accounts reported Waxman as saying after the vote.

In a statement, Dingell congratulated Waxman and promised to work closely with him. Waxman said Dingell will be a “chairman emeritus” and retain his Capitol office suite.