President Obama: Let’s Celebrate Women’s History Month With The First Female FCC Chair In History!

Today marks the first day of Women’s History Month and as a new mother I feel more inclined than ever to celebrate the important role that women have played and continue to play in shaping this country. Of course many of these amazing women  never were and likely never will be in the public eye and will be celebrated only by those that surround them in their personal and professional lives. Others still, have contributed by serving this country in elected or appointed government positions, and those are the ladies that I will focus on today.

This week the White House announced that President Obama plans to appoint Edith Ramirez as the next Chair of the Federal Trade Commission. This is exciting news for everyone that knows about Commissioner Ramirez’ record on consumer protection and prevention of anti-competitive business practices. And at NHMC, we are excited to see a Latina taking the reins at this very important agency!

I hope this is the first of many diverse appointments for the President. So far this term, the President’s appointees have failed to reflect the diversity of the people that he was elected to serve. Women’s groups and Latino groups have criticized the President for his failure to appoint women and Latinos to high ranking positions despite that these two groups were pivotal in his reelection. This, in light of already low levels of these two groups in high ranking government positions, makes me feel like I am in Washington, D.C. in another era, not in 2013.

But there is hope. The President still has ample opportunity to build a legacy of inclusion in Washington, D.C. A number of Cabinet-level positions remain unfilled, as well as countless high ranking under-Cabinet level and agency head positions. One of those positions, a hot topic of press reports in recent months, is that of the Federal Communications Commission, or FCC, Chair.

Why should we care who becomes the next FCC Chair? Okay, well obviously NHMC staff cares because we work on media and telecommunications policy before that agency. But why should you, a regular person who is not wrapped up in this seemingly obscure area of law care about the next FCC Chair?

The answer is simple: you love media and telecommunications. You love picking up your phone and reaching your loved ones on the other end. You like the freedom to choose where you go on the Internet. You want everyone to have an even playing field with access to affordable broadband Internet. You enjoy listening to the radio on a long commute home from work or watching television on a lazy day on the couch. The FCC oversees all of these things, and if you like how these things work today, or want to see them work even better as technology evolves, you should care about the next FCC Chair.

So why should we care that the next FCC Chair be a woman? Would you be surprised if I told you that the FCC has been around since 1934 and in almost 80 years of existence it has NEVER had a female Chair? It has been all white men and a couple of African American men for a total of 28 non-female (and non-Latino) FCC Chairs. So it’s about time for some diversity at this agency. Indeed, the federal government’s own records indicate that the FCC is way behind in its inclusion of Latinos, with just over 3% of its workforce being Latino, and much less if you are looking for Latinos in high ranking positions. At a time when so many media and telecommunications companies are trying to reach the $1 trillion per year Latino market, this is unacceptable.

In the next few years the FCC has many crucial decisions before it. As media and telecommunications technologies continue to evolve, the FCC will have to grapple with pressing legal and jurisdictional questions to ensure that it remains able to protect consumers and the public interest while at the same time promoting investment in a growth market. The next FCC Chair will need a grasp of the Communications Act as amended by the Telecommunications Act of1996. She will need to have her hand on the pulse of the intersection between telecommunications law and policy and the way that new technologies are changing U.S. culture, business and global competitiveness. She will need extensive background and knowledge of both the FCC’s statutory mandates and internal policies and procedures, so that she can hit the ground running at the agency.

And some of the most qualified candidates that are prepared to fulfill these duties happen to be females, including two wise Latinas.

Catherine J.K. Sandoval has been mentioned in numerous press accounts as a top contender for the position. Currently, Sandoval is a Commissioner on the California Public Utilities Commission. At the same time, she has been teaching relevant courses and conducting pertinent scholarship at UC Berkeley School of Law and Santa Clara University School of Law. She has served as Vice President and General Counsel of Z-Spanish Media Corporation, as Director of the Office of Communications and Business Opportunities at the FCC, and as an Associate at the Law Offices of Munger, Tolles & Olson. She holds a JD from Stanford Law School where she was a member of the Stanford Law Review, a Master in Letters from Oxford University where she was the first Latina in history to win a Rhodes scholarship, and a B.A. in Latin American Studies, magna cum laude, from Yale University. She also clerked for the Honorable Dorothy W. Nelson on the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

The Honorable Maria Gloria “Gloria” Tristani was appointed to the Federal Communications Commission by President Bill Clinton, serving as a FCC Commissioner from 1997 through 2001. Subsequently, she has served as President of the Benton Foundation, Managing Director of the Office of Communication of the United Church of Christ, and Of Counsel at Spiegel & McDiarmid law  firm in Washington, D.C. Prior to her time at the FCC, Tristani served on the New Mexico State Corporation Commission, the first woman elected to that commission and its Chair in 1996. From 1983-1987, Tristani worked as an Assistant for U.S. Senator Jeff Bingaman (D. NM). She has earned many accolades, including the Edward R. Roybal Outstanding Public Service Award from the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO) in 2000, and Hispanic Business’ “100 Influential Hispanics,” in 1998 and 1996, among others. She holds a JD from the University of New Mexico School of Law, a BA from Barnard College at Columbia University, and she also completed a program for senior executives in state and local government at Harvard University’s Kennedy School. In the interest of full disclosure, Gloria sits on NHMC’s Board of Directors, however, she did not ask me to write about her.

Two other excellent choices would be sitting FCC Commissioners Mignon Clyburn and Jessica Rosenworcel. Clyburn has been an amazing champion for the telecommunications needs of the poor and people of color, and was a 2011 NHMC Impact Award recipient. She has brought fresh air to the FCC and has given voice to many that have been traditionally shut out of media and telecommunications policy decisions. Rosenworcel would also be a fine choice; her grasp of the law, the policy and the politics is immense and impressive.

Catherine J.K. Sandoval
Maria Gloria “Gloria” Tristani


There are so many other highly qualified women for this post that I did not mention here. So please, President Obama, let’s celebrate Women’s History Month together with the historic appointment of a woman to FCC Chair!

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