Tauzin: ‘No Intention’ to Retire in 2004

Posted June 3, 2003 at 6:01pm

In an attempt to knock down rumors that he will retire imminently, Rep. Billy Tauzin (R-La.) declared this week that he plans to remain chairman of the Energy and Commerce Committee at least through the end of the session. But he refused to promise to run for re-election in 2004.

“I have no intention of leaving” the House before the end of this term, Tauzin said this week in his first public comments on talk that he may leave Congress before the end of 2003 for a lucrative lobbying job.

“I’ll make a decision about re-election next year as I always do,” he said, adding that he will “probably” run for a 14th term. “I have every intention of running again.”

With Tauzin’s name being mentioned for several prominent spots on K Street, including the top posts at the Motion Picture Association of America and the Recording Industry Association of America, there has been continued speculation on Capitol Hill about a behind-the-scenes succession race for the chairman’s gavel.

Tauzin insisted that any discussion of who might ultimately replace him was premature.

But in an interview Monday evening and a phone call Tuesday, Tauzin repeatedly refused to say for certain that he would run for re-election.

“There is no waffle here,” he said. “As a matter of practice, I don’t make a decision until next year. I am not going to change that practice because of rumors.”

But by leaving the door open to retirement in 2004 — albeit by a crack — Tauzin did little to dispel the rumor in a town consumed by gossip that he will leave Capitol Hill after 26 years.

“Billy ain’t leaving,” said Tauzin spokesman Ken Johnson. “If you could go to jail for passing on rumors every lobbyist in town would be behind bars,” he said.

Still, lobbyists on K Street and many Members of Congress remain captivated by the talk of Tauzin’s future.

One Republican on the Energy and Commerce Committee said Tauzin, who turns 60 next week, is “re-evaluating his life’s priorities.”

In the first three months of 2003, Tauzin raised just $12,000 from 10 contributors for his re-election account, down from $74,000 during the same period in the previous election cycle, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Tauzin’s office asserts that he raised an additional $171,000 for his personal campaign account in April and May, including $50,000 at a lunchtime fundraiser in Washington two weeks ago.

His office noted that Tauzin, who had no major party opposition in the previous election cycle, also has nearly $1 million in the bank and continues to headline fundraisers for Republican candidates.

Those who believe Tauzin will retire point to a handful of committee aides who have left Capitol Hill in recent weeks, including David Marventano, the panel’s staff director.

More recently, Jessica Wallace, Tauzin’s highly regarded telecommunications counsel and Marventano’s fiancé, landed a position with Comcast.

In the past two months, about a half-dozen aides have left the committee — about 10 percent of the staff. In the first two years of Tauzin’s tenure, an equal number of aides left.

Tauzin’s supporters, however, note that longtime confidant Dan Brouillette left a lucrative practice at Alpine Group to replace Marventano as staff director.

“Why would Dan come back if it was only going to be a temporary job?” asked one Tauzin ally.

Others question why Tauzin would leave the committee so soon after climbing into the chairmanship — and before he has approved a major piece of legislation.

Tauzin said the talk of his departure started when Jack Valenti, the top lobbyist for Hollywood at the Motion Picture Association of America, floated the Congressman’s name when the lobbyist briefly considered retirement at the end of 2002.

Tauzin declined to say if he was interested in the movie industry post if Valenti retires or the music industry position, which becomes available at the end of this month when Hilary Rosen retires.

“Nobody has talked to me about that,” Tauzin said. Besides, he added, “I’m happy here. I got a good job.”

Tauzin also said that he would not run for the Senate in 2004 if Sen. John Breaux (D-La.) decides to retire.

“I gave that up. My interest is here,” he said, pointing to the House chamber.

Still the continued uncertainty is sure to fuel the quiet battle to replace him in the 3rd district of Louisiana and at the helm of the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee.

A race to succeed Tauzin in Louisiana could be one of the few opportunities for Democrats if the Congressman — a former Democrat himself — does not seek to run again.

Any fight to replace Tauzin on the Energy and Commerce Committee could be just as spirited.

In theory, chairmanships are decided by seniority. But in a move to consolidate their power and promote party discipline, Republican leaders in recent years have made a practice of skipping over more senior Members in favor of loyal Republicans willing to help advance the GOP agenda.

Last year, for example, the Republican leadership plucked Rep. Richard Pombo (R-Calif.) from the 11th slot on the Resources Committee when Chairman Jim Hansen (R-Utah) retired.

Likewise, Republicans are not expected to give the Energy and Commerce gavel to Rep. Mike Bilirakis (R-Fla.), though the 72-year-old lawmaker ranks just behind Tauzin.

Instead, Republicans say the battle for the position would likely pit Rep. Joe Barton (Texas) against Rep. Mike Oxley (Ohio), two collegial Republicans and prolific fundraisers, who together manage the Republican squad in the annual Roll Call Congressional baseball game.

Two years ago, Oxley outranked Barton in seniority on the committee. But after Oxley and Tauzin waged a bitter, two-year battle to replace then-Commerce Chairman Thomas Bliley (R-Va.), Oxley left the panel to become chairman of the revamped Financial Services Committee.

Both Oxley and Barton come with some benefits and baggage. Barton, 53, won praise for driving President Bush’s energy legislation through the House twice in two years.

But he has an independent streak that can irk Republican leaders from time to time, including a fellow Texan, Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R).

Barton has made it clear that he expects to be Energy and Commerce chairman if Tauzin retires or when he is forced out in 2006 by the Republicans’ six-year term limits on committee chairmen.

Oxley, 59, who is considered to be the most loyal of Republicans, is more demure about his intentions.

Though he still holds his seat on the Energy and Commerce Committee, his 2000 deal with Tauzin and the Republican leadership left bitter feelings on the committee because Oxley took the panel’s broad jurisdiction over financial services matters to his new committee.

Oxley faces another obstacle: Leaving the Financial Services panel for the Energy and Commerce post could allow Rep. Richard Baker (R-La.) to make a play for the chairmanship of the banking post.

Like Barton, Baker is considered by top Republicans to be a bit of a free agent who would not likely toe the leadership line.

As a result, Republican insiders speculate that Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) might seek to move over from the Rules Committee chairmanship to take over for Oxley at Financial Services.

Rep. Deborah Pryce (R-Ohio), the chairwoman of the Republican Conference and a member of the Rules Committee, could then take over for Dreier, according to the latest round of speculation.

Of course, the speculation about committee swaps is two years premature if Tauzin decides to stick around the House for the final two years of his chairmanship.

“I have every intention of serving out my term and every intention of running for reelection,” Tauzin said.

“It’s all a pack of rumors,” he added. “None of that stuff is true.”