According to sources on the Hill and off it, Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has proposed FCC Enforcement Bureau official Geoffrey Starks to succeed Mignon Clyburn as Democratic FCC Commissioner when she decides to exit--or when a new nominee speeds that process.
Customarily the Senate Minority Leader gets to choose Democratic FCC nominees. The President can nominate whomever he wants, of course, but the custom dates from when President Bill Clinton deferred the Republican and Democratic picks for FCC nominees to the majority and minority leaders.
A Schumer spokesperson was not available for comment at press time.
Starks is currently in the FCC's Enforcement Bureau, which is not a typical launching pad for a commission seat, like, say, a Hill communications counsel would be.
One source said public interest groups and others have been scrambling to find out just who Starks is, and more importantly where he comes down on important issues. The fear is someone that might be striking deals with Republicans rather than holding the line against deregulation, as Clyburn has.
"I remember a lot of people talking trash about Commissioner Clyburn, about how she wasn't qualified or only got the job because of her daddy (Rep. James Clyburn [D-S.C.]), and look at what a superstar she turned out to be in every way," said David Goodfriend, president of the Goodfriend Group. "So let's give Mr. Starks a chance to prove himself."
Clyburn has not signaled she is ready to exit, but it would take time for the FBI to vet a new nominee and hold a hearing and get them confirmed, so Schumer might be thinking ahead. Or Starks nomination could force the issue. Clyburn can serve until the end of the next Congress after her term ends--which it did last June--or until a successor is seated.
The Republicans are also trying to get a second, full-five-year term for Brendan Carr, who was only confirmed to fill an unexpired term--of former FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler--and will need to pair him up with a Democrat if past is prologue.
Starks has an impressive resume, and one that may calm those public interest groups.
According to a Starks resume supplied by a source, he is currently assistant bureau chief at the FCC and is focused on "closing the digital divide by bringing more broadband to underserved communities; building transformational 5G infrastructure to help deliver the largest wireless platform for innovation in the world; and advancing broadband telemedicine programs to improve access to quality medical services and health outcomes."
He is credited in the one-sheet with "leading the FCC team in a regulatory action against a carrier for net neutrality violations, resulting in a $48 million consent decree and the FCC’s only successful net neutrality prosecution to date."
That should be reassuring to activist groups pushing back on network neutrality deregulation.
Starks has an undergraduate degree from Harvard and a law degree from Yale. He also founded a community bank.
Like FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, he grew up in Kansas, though the city rather than a small town.
His wife is Lauren Thompson Starks, a former Obama appointee. Starks is also a former staffer to then Senator Barack Obama and a former attorney with Williams & Connolly in Washington.
Starks' Obama-era government service includes serving under Attorney General Eric Holder at Justice, including as the lead on financial and healthcare fraud.