Martin ready at the gate

Former Ken Starr staff attorney and 'chad-war' vet, rising Republican seems headed for FCC seat

Kevin Martin is taking another big stride on the GOP fast track. Martin, one of three people President Bush nominated last week to serve as FCC commissioners (see In Brief, page 42), has held a string of increasingly high-profile posts since joining the agency as an aide in 1997.

Martin is among a group of young Republican lawyers who joined the staff of Commissioner Harold Furchtgott-Roth early in his tenure and have moved on to bigger things either in the party's ranks or in the corporate world.

Martin left Furchtgott-Roth's staff in June 1999 to become deputy general counsel for the Bush campaign. After Bush was declared the victor, he led the transition team's effort to pick the new FCC nominees, which also include lobbyist Kathleen Abernathy and former Clinton trade official Michael Copps.

It might raise a few eyebrows that Martin picked himself as a candidate, but Vice President Dick Cheney had already set that precedent.

Since inauguration, Martin also has been serving as special assistant for economic policy.

He was a key player in the legal battle over the Florida vote recount, helping to manage the legions of GOP lawyers who invaded the state to observe the manual tallies.

According to an account in the Los Angeles Times, Martin at least once was forced to bear the brunt of tensions rising among the exhausted team of Republicans as they moved between Miami, West Palm Beach and other towns over 35 days.

In one episode, the executive director of New York's state committee eventually "exploded" at Martin after being forced to pack up and move one too many times, tossing a garbage can at his youthful GOP minder and ultimately throwing him out of the hotel room.

Martin, like the other FCC nominees waiting for Senate confirmation, declined to comment for this story.

The Florida vote battle wasn't Martin's first trek into the minefield of partisan disputes. Before joining Furchtgott-Roth's staff, he served roughly six months as a lawyer on Kenneth Starr's Whitewater investigation team.

But it isn't just Martin's willingness to hold the GOP flag in high-profile political spats that has earned him a quick trip up the ladder. The Harvard Law graduate wins effusive praise from colleagues and former employers for his legal skills.

"Kevin is one of those guys who can combine legal skills with political savvy," says Paul Misener, another former Furchtgott-Roth aide and now lobbyist for "That combination worked well for him in the presidential campaign, and it will serve him well as a commissioner."

"He is an outstanding lawyer," adds Richard Wiley, head of Wiley, Rein & Fielding, one of Washington's top telecommunications firms. Martin focused on broadcasting clients during his tenure at the firm, although he specialized in telephone issues when he joined Furchtgott-Roth's office. "He's now got a pretty good fix on the entire range of FCC jurisdiction," Wiley says.

On Furchtgott-Roth's staff, one of Martin's first tasks was to help his boss pen a string of stinging dissents criticizing the FCC's management of telephone universal-service charges and referring to the e-rate charge used to wire schools and libraries to the Internet as a "hidden tax."

Furchtgott-Roth gives a lot of credit to Martin for honing his views on telephone issues. "Kevin's insights were very valuable to me," he says. "I delegate a lot of responsibility to my staff."

Martin joins two other Furchtgott-Roth alums now in senior White House jobs. Helgi Walker, former senior legal adviser and mass-media aide, is now associate White House general counsel and Rebecca Beynon, another senior counsel to the commissioner, is now assistant general counsel at the Office of Management and Budget.

Martin and the other conservative lawyers helped their boss win the cranky moniker "Dr. Dissent" for opposing much on the former FCC Chairman's agenda in the past three years.

But Furchtgott-Roth predicts his protégé will bring a cheerful and confident approach to the job: "He always wears a smile and understands telecommunications markets very well."