The commissioner you know

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Last August, our Capitol Hill reporter Paige Albiniak broke the story that President Clinton was prepared to extend Susan Ness' tenure at the FCC with a recess appointment, circumventing the normal Senate confirmation process. As the weeks, then months, went by we grew a little nervous about the veracity of the story. But just before the holidays, Clinton came through for his old Renaissance weekend chum.

Now, the question is, "Will she stay?" The appointment is only good for a year, or until the Bush administration replaces her. To win the new, five-year term she covets, she will not only have to persuade the Bush people to overlook the faithful clamoring for jobs, but also win enough Senate support to overcome the opposition of Sen. John McCain, who wants her out of there. So you would have to say odds are long on her reappointment, even though she suddenly has an ally in the Senate: Hillary Clinton.

But putting the handicapping aside for a moment, should
she be reappointed? We say yes, but with some hesitancy because she belongs to the school that still believes broadcasters owe the public something in the form of government-mandated services.

But on the whole, we think she would make a good choice for one of the two FCC seats that will be reserved for Democrats. She doesn't push the public-interest issue. In fact, she proved a moderating influence on Hundt and Kennard, two Democratic chairmen who did. She is a former media banker who can calculate the real-world impact of FCC actions. She has earned the trust of the broadcasting and cable lobbies, even though she doesn't always take their side. She has a knack for picking good staffers who follow her lead in working hard to weigh all points of view. And her reappointment would insure some continuity at the commission, which is likely to see the departure this year of three other members.

If Bush is serious about putting some real Democrats in his administration, he should give Ness the same serious consideration she gives FCC petitioners.