After Powell: Will It Be A 'Surprise' Chairmanship?

With Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell exiting his post in

With Federal Communications Commission chairman Michael Powell exiting his post in early March, here's the possible scenario for a transition at the FCC that some of D.C.'s communications-industry power brokers see.

While commissioner Kevin Martin is certainly "in the hunt" for the chairmanship, he's not considered a shoo-in for the post. The reasoning, say our sources: Martin has voted "too often" with Democratic commissioners Jonathan Adelstein and Michael Copps.

The betting line on commissioner Kathleen Abernathy as chairman is split, with sources pointing to her support of the Bush administration as a plus, but others discounting those credits as being enough to put her on the White House's list of possible nominees. "But you've got to remember," cautions one source, "this administration is fond of appointing minorities and women into key positions."

Copps and Adelstein are not considered likely successors by our sources, simply on the grounds of their Democratic leanings. "Stranger things have happened," says one source, pointing to the quid-pro-quo that exits between the White House and Capitol Hill -- a working relationship that was able to get Adelstein ultimately confirmed.

But what might happen if Powell leaves, and the White House hasn't found someone to put on the panel as the FCC's fifth commissioner? It's not a new problem and the FCC has functioned as a four-member agency in the past.

The White House can simply appoint one of the remaining four commissioners as an interim-chairman. That's what happened in the Clinton administration, with former commissioner Jim Quello, who was made interim chairman during a brief four-member interregnum.

But the dynamics of a four-member FCC would be a very different -- especially if Martin's third vote could be counted, on occasion, alongside that of Copps and Adelstein.

That leaves the Washington buzz focusing on who might wind up on the White House's short list. While Monitor has heard five or six names so far, the one name heard most often is Rebecca A. Klein, the former chairman of the Public Utility Commission of Texas.