Martin Likes the FCC's Measured Pace

Despite workload, it's almost restful after '00 election frenzy

Despite having a full plate at the FCC, Kevin Martin has found the pace at the commission almost relaxing compared with the tumult of his previous job.

For almost a year and half in Austin, Texas, as general counsel for the 2000 Bush Campaign, he helped oversee routine legal duties, such as incorporating the campaign organization, getting George W. Bush on 50 state ballots, and submitting Federal Election Commission reports. Then late on Nov. 7, Martin's life became a whirlwind when the election's outcome was cast into dispute.

"I was out on the street after the initial announcement we'd won," Martin recalled from his FCC office overlooking Washington's Anacostia River. "Then, I received a telephone call to go back to the office. Already, people there were evaluating our legal status, and I was dispatched straight to the airport."

He worked around the clock to help organize recounts in Dade and Broward Counties in Florida and didn't sleep the first several days. "It was unbelievably hectic," he says.

The rush didn't stop when Vice President Gore conceded. Martin was on the first plane to Washington to help set up the transition. His '87 BMW ES remained at a private airport outside Austin until nearly March. "I'm sure the operators thought it was abandoned," he laughs. "My dad and a friend of his finally drove from North Carolina to get it. They needed someone to charge the battery."

Without a recharge of his own, Martin segued from the transition team to a short stint as a White House adviser before winning confirmation for his FCC post in July 2001.

Despite missing the 2002 congressional campaigns, Martin has no complaints about the more measured pace. "Every once in a while, I miss the excitement, but the commission has lots of responsibility."

Martin could never have predicted the particulars of the high-stakes disputes of the 2000 campaign or his appointment to the FCC. Nevertheless, his professional path is playing out as planned when he opted to work for powerhouse Washington law firm Wiley, Rein & Fielding. "I wanted to work in litigation as well as public policy and advocacy. Wiley, Rein provided that mix."

In addition to preparing him for the post-election litigation, his stint in private practice also provided a firm grounding in telecommunications law. The firm and its clients were key players in the debate over the deregulatory Telecommunications Act of 1996, and the work prepared the young lawyer for his current job.

A heavy dose of support from mentor and former FCC Chairman Richard Wiley also propelled his career—first to a staff post with FCC Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth and then to the Bush campaign.

"He stood out among a bevy of very impressive young lawyers," Wiley says. "He was very inquisitive and always up on the issues."

Martin's combination of legal skills, professional determination and Bush administration ties (besides his own experience, wife Catherine is deputy director of public affairs for Vice President Dick Cheney) leads many to predict that he'll win the chairman's seat if Republicans still hold the White House when current FCC chief Micha-el Powell moves on.

In the meantime, though, the two Republicans lock horns more often than their GOP backers expected. Martin has dissented on or criticized a handful of Powell initiatives, including a rule requiring nearly all TV sets to have digital tuners by 2007; what he saw as a too weak rejection of EchoStar's two-dish requirement for customers desiring all local broadcast channels; and reliance on a spectrum task force.

Martin insists that his dissents have energized debate without alienating his chairman. "Occasional policy differences aren't anything to run away from. Internal debate and thoughtful discussion lead to the best decisions possible."