First Coffee for November 10, 2005

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David Sims
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First Coffee for November 10, 2005

By David Sims

The news as of the first coffee this morning, and the music is Beethoven’s String Quartet Op. 135 in F:

Huh? Deborah Tate? Oh, glad you asked:

President Bush’s nominee to take a Republican seat on the Federal Communications Commission, Tennessee lawyer Deborah T. Tate, is currently serving a six-year term as director of Tennessee’s Regulatory Authority, which sets rates and service standards for private telephone, natural gas, electric and water utilities.

She was appointed to the position in February 2002 by the governor and confirmed by the Tennessee General Assembly. She has also served as a member of Governor Sundquist’s senior staff and was his designee to the Juvenile Justice Commission and the TennCare Partners Advisory Committee from 1996 to 2000.

According to the Washington Post, “telecom analysts and lawyers said they expected Tate to broadly support (FCC Chairman Kevin) Martin’s positions and the general deregulatory trend favored by the Republicans. As a former state regulator, they suggested she might be quicker to defend the prerogatives of states in battles over jurisdiction with Washington,” which of course is all to the good.

The FCC at full strength has five members. There are currently two Democrats and two Republicans, adding Tate would make it 3-2 for the Republicans. Evidently Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens gets to pick the fifth member, and hasn’t done so yet. Democrat Michael J. Copps, who favors stricter decency standards on the airwaves, is renominated for another term.

In an FCC filing last year, the Post says, “Tate wrote that she wanted ‘the states and the FCC to reevaluate our overall regulatory program so that consumer welfare is the centerpiece of regulation rather than restraining the market power of increasingly hypothetical monopolists.’”

This would sound like Tate would be sympathetic to big phone companies like Verizon and SBC, and their pleas that they face “growing competition from cable, Internet phone and wireless providers despite their history as regulated monopolies.”

But the fact is nobody seems to know much about her. In a statement reported by the Los Angeles Times, Martin said Tate “has a distinguished career in state government.”

“Although Tate has long been rumored to be among the top candidates for the FCC job,” the Times writes, “public interest groups and industry analysts reached late Wednesday said they did not know much about her.

Even Gene Kimmelman, co-director of the Washington office of Consumers Union, which follows media issues at the FCC, told the Times “I’m from Tennessee but I don’t know her.”

She’s no stranger to Washington, as in her capacity as director she also sits on the  Federal-State Joint Conference on Advanced Services as a representative from a state commissions. The conference works for “greater federal-state cooperation, which is critical to facilitating the widespread deployment of, and access to, advanced services.”

Comprised of commissioners from state public utilities commissions and from the Federal Communications Commission, it was convened in 1999 and is chaired by the FCC Chairman or his designee.

The FSJC is one of those wallpaper entities which proliferate in Washington, it exists but nobody’s quite sure exactly why, it was started some time in the past as a good idea and has lumbered on as per the inside the Beltway mentality of “I exist, I’ve got a budget, therefore I am.” According to the FSJC’s web site its mission is to “share ideas, gather real-life stories from across the country, and assist the FCC in its reports to Congress on the deployment of advanced telecommunications services.”

It describes itself as “a forum for an ongoing dialogue between the Commission, state regulators, and local and regional entities regarding the deployment of advanced telecommunications capabilities,” an admirable raison d’etre.

In October 2002 the Florida Public Service Commission prepared a report titled “Broadband Service In The United States: An Analysis of Availability and Demand” on behalf of the FSJC, but according to news posted on the conference’s web site things have gone pretty quiet since then, as according to the news releases its main industry these days appears to be appointing new members.

Tate’s name and views do not appear in the Florida report.

“Among other things,” FSJC officials say, it’s “responsible for monitoring and collecting data regarding the practices of carriers as they deploy advanced services throughout the nation.” It has held a series of field hearings across the country and has conducted Broadband Summits to “examine how best to accelerate the deployment of affordable advanced services to rural and other under-served telecommunications users.”

Tate was appointed to the directorship of TRA in 2002, and her term expires in June 2008. She has also served as Director of the State and Local Policy Center at Vanderbilt University, as an Assistant to the Governor and a member of Senior Staff. She holds J.D. degrees from the University of Tennessee.

In September 2002 Tate, described as “director of the Tennessee Regulatory Authority and former mental health policy advisor for Governor Don Sundquist,” joined the board of directors of Centerstone, a Middle Tennessee provider of mental health services which provides “a comprehensive range of mental health services for children and adults including research and evaluation and treatment for mental illness and substance abuse,” according to Centerstone officials.

“Debi’s contributions to mental health in Tennessee and her insight into state government make her a valuable addition to our board,” said David Paine, chairman of the board of Centerstone at the time of the appointment. The combination of mental health and state government experience should stand her in good stead in D.C.

As Governor Sundquist’s mental health policy advisor for statewide mental health issues, Tate was instrumental in the creation and implementation of a nine-point plan to resolve issues relative to services provided by TennCare. In this role, she also served as the governor’s appointee to the Title 33 Mental Health Revision Commission, which recently was enacted into law by the Tennessee General Assembly.

As a licensed attorney in the State of Tennessee, Tate is a mediator approved by the Tennessee Supreme Court. Her areas of private practice have included juvenile and family law as well as probate and estate law, and her name is listed in a directory of Nashville divorce lawyers.

Indeed, Tate seems to be one of those people versatile enough to handle just about any government position you throw at her, a jack of all governmental trades. From 1979 to 1985, she was on the senior staff and as assistant legal counsel to Governor Lamar Alexander, overseeing initiatives including the “Jobs for High School Graduates Program” and the “Tennesseans for Better Schools,” a citizens’ lobby which was instrumental in the passage of The Better Schools Plan.

Because when it comes down to it, strip away the issue or subject or location, government work is government work and it takes a certain kind of individual to thrive in that atmosphere. Tate appears to be that kind of person.

Tate has served on the adjunct faculty at Vanderbilt University’s School of Nursing and Belmont University’s Jack C. Massey Graduate School of Business. She also is the co-founder and former president of Renewal House, a recovery residence for women addicted to crack cocaine and their children. She has also served as an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church.

Her nomination faces Senate confirmation, and no date has been set. She is expected to be confirmed, as her opinions about Roe v. Wade don’t loom in her confirmation quite as large as those of Sam Alito’s.

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