Henry Waxman to lead influential House panel

Unseats Dingell as chair of Energy, Commerce committee

There will be a change in leadership of the influential House Committee on Energy and Commerce in the next Congress, with Southern California Democrat Henry Waxman taking over for veteran lawmaker John Dingell.

Waxman prevailed Thursday over incumbent Dingell, D-Mich., for the chairmanship, which has under its purview the FCC and many issues Hollywood holds dear. It's an open question whether the committee will have entertainment and media issues front and center when the new Congress gets to work in January; however important those issues are to Hollywood, they are fairly small compared with others the panel oversees: energy, climate change and health care.

"Other issues likely are initially going to predominate over telecommunications and media issues," said Andrew Lippman, practice leader at Washington-based law firm Bingham McCutcheon.

Still, the more business-friendly Dingell is giving way to the more liberal and consumer-focused Waxman, who represents West Hollywood, Beverly Hills and Santa Monica.

Waxman has been an advocate for media independence and accountability, pushing for free airtime for candidates, trying to increase regulations on over-the-counter drug advertising and seeking to regulate product placement and media depictions of smoking.

He also has a record of backing Hollywood studios that goes back two decades to his efforts on fin-syn.

"Given his district and his votes in the past, Waxman is going to be more sensitive to the needs of Hollywood," Lippman said. "Waxman was a very forceful and vocal, articulate advocate for the Hollywood studios."

Waxman has a Hollywood-friendly record on content, piracy protection, intellectual property and network neutrality. He also figures to be very much in sync with the Barack Obama administration's platform on technology and media issues.

Still to be determined is whether Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., will continue as a senior member of the committee and as chair of the House Subcommittee on Telecommunications and the Internet.

Trade groups welcomed Waxman to his new position.

"We look forward to working with both Mr. Waxman and Mr. Dingell in the new Congress and in continuing to make the case that the news, entertainment and emergency-lifeline services provided by free and local broadcasting are worth preserving and strengthening," said Dennis Wharton, executive vp of the National Association of Broadcasters.