With the retirement of Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina is in line to take the top Republican spot on the Commerce Committee next year. Seen as a staunch conservative and leading tea party figure in the Senate, DeMint is less known for his work on tech and telecommunication issues.
DeMint has not said whether he will pursue the top GOP post on Commerce. If he does, he could have wide sway over only tech and telecom issues, as well as consume-protection, maritime, science, and transportation issues.
“Senator DeMint is focused on electing conservatives to the Senate to ensure it’s a chairmanship, not a ranking position,” DeMint spokesman Wesley Denton told National Journal. “If Republicans win back control of Congress and the White House, the Commerce Committee will play a critical role in reforming Washington’s out-of-control bureaucracy and actually promoting commerce and free markets.”
If Republicans fail in their bid to take the Senate in this fall’s election, DeMint would serve as ranking member alongside the current Commerce chairman, Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va. The panel’s ranking member, Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, announced last year that she would not seek another term, which left Snowe and now DeMint next in line.
Former Rep. Steve Largent, R-Okla., who now heads the wireless-industry group CTIA, said in an interview Wednesday that DeMint indicated he was interested in the Senate Commerce post.
“He’s been great for industry,” said Largent, who served with DeMint in the House. “He’s a free-market guy.… I’m thrilled that Jim will be in a position to be considered for that job.”
DeMint, however, voted against legislation to implement CTIA’s biggest legislative priority: freeing up more spectrum for wireless use. DeMint opposed the Senate version of the spectrum legislation when the Commerce Committee took up the bipartisan measure last June. He said he supported the goals of the spectrum legislation but worried that the bill, which also authorized funding to help build a national broadband network, could end up costing taxpayers money. Last month, DeMint also voted against the payroll-tax cut bill that included a compromise version of the spectrum legislation.
The committee has weighed in on the key issue of consumer privacy and will likely do so again. DeMint, a former marketing executive, has been skeptical of calls for legislation to give consumers more ways to protect their privacy online.
The South Carolinian also has favored a free-market approach when it comes to broadcasting and cable issues. In December, he introduced legislation, opposed by the National Association of Broadcasters, that would repeal provisions requiring cable firms to include all local broadcast stations on their systems and to negotiate fees with broadcasters to retransmit more popular stations. The bill also would repeal local media-ownership limits. DeMint sponsored a bill last March to cut off federal funding to PBS and NPR.