With this afternoon’s concessions of defeat by Senator George Allen and Conrad Burns, the GOP’s loss of the Senate is official. Tech policy played little role in this political earthquake, despite much early rhetoric by neutrality regulation supporters that it would be a big part of the debate. Yet, ironically, the final two dominoes to fall were both members of the Senate Commerce Committee, and key players in tech policy debates. Allen in particular will be missed by free-market supporters, as well as the tech industry (he ranked number one in the Senate on tech policy in a recent CNET survey.) Burns, a longtime communications subcommittee chair, had a more mixed record. He was an early supporter of telecom reform, but in recent years seemed to focus more on protecting rural state perks.
The headline news, however, is the change at the top of the committee. Senator Ted Stevens–who was made famous by Jon Stewart and YouTube for describing the Internet as a “series of tubes”–is out.
Supporters of markets will shed few tears over Steven’s ejection from the chairman’s seat. The champion of Alaska’s “bridge to nowhere,” proponent of a $3 billion scheme to subsidize television, and author of a telecom bill with $5.2 billion more in subsidies, he hardly represented Adam Smith’s values. We are tempted, in fact, to crack a smile.
But not too big a smile. While Stevens may be out, he is replaced by Daniel Inouye of Hawaii. Although of different parties, Stevens and Inouye always had a close working relationship–Stevens, in fact, always referred to Inouye as his “co-chairman.” While Stevens would be hard to beat in the pork department, Inouye is no shirker (its a fair bet he can take credit for the special rules for “states comprised entirely of islands” in this year’s telecom legislation).
This isn’t to say there aren’t differences. Stevens, for instance, was somewhat opposed to neutrality regulation, while Inouye somewhat supportive. But in many other areas, it’ll be hard to spot a difference. In fact, on many issues–such as telecom subsidies–Inouye could be more successful at getting Stevens’ agenda adopted than Stevens was.
As I suggested earlier, settle in for a few interesting years.