Following months of speculation regarding the future of one of the FCC’s longest-serving Commissioners, Mignon Clyburn today at the Commission’s April Open Meeting revealed what her future will be.
She’s leaving the FCC, and today’s meeting was her last as a Democratic member of the agency.
Clyburn made the announcement at the end of the Commission’s monthly meeting, immediately resulting in reactions from various parties.
FCC Chairman Ajit Pai issued a statement, in which he said, “I congratulate Commissioner Clyburn on her distinguished tenure at the FCC. She has been a tremendous leader and a committed public servant throughout her time here.”
Commissioner Clyburn has seen much during her time at the FCC. Most notably, she served as Acting Chairwoman of the FCC following her appointment by President Obama in May 2013. She held interim stripes for five months, and presided over the Commission following the departure of former Chairman Jules Genachowski and arrival of Chairman Wheeler.
Her rise to Acting Chairwoman also came as the result of Commissioner Robert McDowell’s departure, at the same time as that of Genachowski.
Clyburn was the first woman to hold the role of Chair, even if for an interim period.
This was noted by Pai.
“As the first woman to head the agency, she led skillfully through a transition and put her stamp on the Commission, including through her steadfast leadership in telehealth, media diversity, and digital inclusion,” he said. “I have enjoyed working with her and, even when we have not seen eye-to-eye on policy, I have always held her candor and thoughtfulness in the highest regard. She’s been a wonderful colleague and friend. I wish her nothing but the best and sincerely thank her for her service.”
Also offering comments nearly immediately after Clyburn’s announcement is NAB President/CEO Gordon Smith.
He said, “Mignon Clyburn has served the Commission with distinction, dedication and humility over the past eight years. She has been a passionate voice on behalf of consumers and a champion of diversity in the media marketplace during her tenure. NAB and America’s broadcasters wish Commissioner Clyburn well on her future path.”
Following the meeting, colleagues Jessica Rosenworcel and Brendan Carr offered their own comments regarding Clyburn’s departure.
Rosenworcel said, “In short, Commissioner Clyburn is a dynamo. She represents the best of public service. I am proud to call her both a colleague and a friend.”
She added, ““Commissioner Clyburn has been a forceful advocate for change, for equal
opportunity, and for closing the digital divide. It was a privilege to support her history-making leadership as Acting Chairwoman. It has been an honor to work alongside her
to put consumers first and bring connectivity to those at greatest risk of being left
behind—urban, rural, and everywhere in between. I am proud to have worked together
with her to support net neutrality and grateful to have been her partner in her
unwavering work to remedy the grave injustice of exorbitant prison phone rates. As
she departs this agency, she should know her legacy is intact because so many who
work on communications policy will continue to be guided by her outstanding
example. I consider myself among them.”
Carr said, “In my time as a Commissioner, I have been consistently struck by her passion and commitment to the work of the FCC, her professionalism, and her willingness to reach across the aisle to get things done. It has been a privilege to serve with her, and I wish her all the best on her future endeavors.”
A LONG AND WINDING ROAD
Clyburn is in her second term as a Commissioner, and joined the FCC in February 2013. She began her service at the FCC in August 2009, after spending 11 years as a member of the sixth district on the Public Service Commission (PSC) of South Carolina. Clyburn served as its chair from July 2002 through June 2004.
Prior to her service on the PSC, Clyburn served as the co-owner, publisher and GM of Charleston, S.C.-based family-owned African-American weekly The Coastal Times.
A return to South Carolina for her continued presence in Washington has been discussed for more than a year.
That’s because the father of Mignon Clyburn is Rep. Jim Clyburn, representing the sixth district of South Carolina. Clyburn is presently the Asst. Democratic Leader in the House of Representatives, and has been in Congress since his election in November 1992.
Could the elder Clyburn be eyeing retirement, with his eldest daughter running for Congress to continue the family legacy in the House?
The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., asked Clyburn the question in early March 2017. At present, Mr. Clyburn is expected to seek reelection.
She offered no hints as to whether such talk was pure speculation, or if it offered a possibility of what’s to come for Clyburn. “Whatever I do next, it will be a continuation of public service,” she said.
Scott Flick, Partner at Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, offered his thoughts about Clyburn’s future to RBR+TVBR in July 2017.
“Unless Commissioner Clyburn chooses to depart for her own reasons, it seems likely that she will be renominated,” he says.
Now that’s she’s exiting, some 10 months after the formal end of her tenure, a place in the House is already the stuff of rumors.
Meanwhile, there’s now a hole for President Trump to fill regarding who will sit alongside Rosenworcel as the second Democrat in a 3-2 majority FCC.
Alternatively, as has been debated, an independent, unaffiliated appointment could come, possibly giving the FCC a fourth vote on some contentious issues and not a guaranteed lock-step vote alongside that of Rosenworcel.
Temporarily, Clyburn’s exit would result in a 2-2 deadlock on contentious votes.
She could have stayed at the FCC through the end of the current Congress.