Chairman Billy Tauzin: Bell Ringer - Page 4

Free at Last

Regardless of his possible motives or the roads he took to get there,Tauzin is finally positioned to throttle the FCC and free the Bells to enter national markets for both phone and data services.

And even political opponents say Tauzin comes to the issues with more than a simple agenda to make his campaign contributors happy.

"He is very smart, and very gifted verbally," said one high-ranking Democratic staffer. "There are very few members of the committee who understand the issue and can speak in full paragraphs without tripping over acronyms and reading off a sheet of paper."

Still, Tauzin cant do whatever he wants, nor do it without Democratic support and cooperation in the Senate, because the issues remain contentious, and all sides have friends in powerful places.

Insiders say Sens. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska; Ernest Hollings, D-S.C.; and Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., will lead the charge for a more balanced revision of the telecom act.

Former Rep. Rick White, R-Wash., who served with Tauzin and co-founded the Congressional Internet Caucus, agreed. "Billy is a powerful advocate, but he cant get everything done by himself," White said. "But Billy is one of the smartest guys in Congress."

Intelligence alone has not boosted Tauzin into his powerful position. His career has been shaped by Louisiana politics that rely upon loyalty, friendship and favors.

Former Louisiana governor Edwards, who talked to Interactive Week on the day a federal judge ruled he did not have to report to a Texas prison while appealing his conviction, acknowledged his role as mentor to Tauzin. Edwards said he believed in Tauzin, and that he worked hard to help him get elected and find political allies.

"I dont know that now Billy would necessarily want me commenting on his political career, given my circumstances," Edwards said. "Would you want Al Capone talking about what a good politician you are?"

Tauzin said he was saddened by the criminal turn in Edwards career and that "if hes made mistakes, hell pay for them." But he also acknowledged his debt to Edwards. "Whatever you want to say about his later administrations, his first administration, the one I worked in, was very, very reform-oriented," Tauzin said.