Elections Reshuffle Infotech Policy Lineup

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., will get the gavel at the Senate Commerce Committee following the Nov. 5 defeat of the current chairman, Sen. Larry Pressler, R-S.D., who ended up 2 percentage points behind South Dakota Democrat Tim Johnson.

McCain's ascension may be good news or bad news for the infotech industry. Like Pressler, he supports free-market reform of spectrum management, but he would go further. McCain was one of five senators who voted against the telecom reform act because it did not go far enough. Thus, he would likely charge broadcasters for use of TV spectrum.

In Nebraska, Republican Chuck Hagel came from behind to defeat Gov. Ben Nelson for Nebraska's open Senate seat. He's likely to attract much attention from the infotech industry because he co-founded Vanguard Cellular Systems and he ran McCarthy & Co., an investment banking firm. He's now trying to persuade his Republican colleagues to give him a seat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.

But other infotech executives failed to clear the Senate election hurdle. Democrat Mark Warner, who lost to incumbent Sen. John Warner, R-Va., spent more than $7 million of his money to amass 1.1 million votes -- that's roughly $6 per vote. Meanwhile, Democratic infotech businessman Tom Bruggere lost his Washington state race against local Republican politician Gordon Smith.

Watch for the return of Mark Warner in 2000, when he may try to snatch the Democratic nomination away from Sen. Chuck Robb, D-Va. If Warner runs in 2000, he may face Fairfax Republican Rep. Tom Davis, forcing Northern Virginia's infotech community to choose between two of its favorite politicos.

In January, Nebraska's Hagel replaces liberal Republican Sen. Mark Hatfield, underscoring the stiffer conservatism of the new GOP senators. Given the slimmed-down GOP majority and chastened ambitions of the House Republicans, Hagel and other younger conservatives in the Senate may set the rhetorical tone for the GOP during the next two years. However, if the 45 Democrat senators can stay united, they can work with President Clinton to stop any GOP legislation they oppose.

In the House, there's a game of musical chairs to complete before any laws are considered. The departure of Rep. Bob Walker, R-Pa., should allow Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., to take over the House Science Committee. Rep. Dan Burton, R-Ind., seems to have won the House Government Reform Committee following the retirement of Rep. William Clinger, R-Pa. Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., will likely take the reins at the House Small Business Committee, following the retirement of Rep. Jan Meyers, R-Kan. Also, Rep. Billy Tauzin, D-La., takes over the telecommunications panel of the House Commerce Committee.

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