Likeable EAC Nominee Still Faces Politics

Posted April 9, 2010 at 5:23pm

Tom Hicks is an accidental political bad guy.

In a town where opposition research is a parlor game, a reporter’s hand tires from dialing for criticism of the Democratic House Administration Committee staffer, who was recently nominated by President Barack Obama to fill a slot on the Election Assistance Commission.

“Tom is awesome,” said Salley Wood, a Republican spokeswoman for the House Administration Committee. “There are times when we can agree to disagree, but it’s always a pleasure to work with him on an issue.”

Still, despite near universal praise for him personally, Hicks’ next job move faces an uncertain future in the Senate, which continues to be a holding tank for White House nominations. Ahead of Obama’s recent decision to advance 15 nominees with recess appointments, more than 80 individuals awaited Senate confirmation.

A spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) did not respond to a request for comment for this story. During the recent recess, however, the first signs of GOP opposition emerged when House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) urged his Senate colleagues to block Hicks’ nomination unless his GOP counterpart is also confirmed.

“Given the considerable challenges currently facing the commission, I was troubled that President Obama did not also announce action on my recommendation to re-nominate Commissioner Gineen Bresso Beach — an already proven and valuable asset to the successful administration of elections,” Boehner said in a statement earlier this month. “I urge the President to act swiftly to re-nominate Bresso Beach so that she and Mr. Hicks can be considered by the Senate at the same time.”

In addition to Wood, Hicks’ other personal defenders describe him as an unlikely player in the ongoing partisan showdown between Republicans and the White House. Meredith McGehee, the Campaign Legal Center’s policy director, calls Hicks affable, professional and decidedly nonpartisan.

“He’s very earnest. He’s serious without having a serious personality. On the commission, you need somebody who can talk to people in a reasonable fashion,” she said. “I don’t know anybody who doesn’t like Tom. Everybody likes him, which is amazing in this town.”

“He doesn’t have that sharp-elbow political instinct,” she added. “And at the EAC, that’s probably good.”

And McGehee should know. As Hicks’ former boss at Common Cause, McGehee takes credit for first exposing her new employee to the arcana of the EAC, dispatching him to become the organization’s resident whiz on the Help America Vote Act, which was passed following the presidential election debacle in Florida in 2000. The 2002 law created the EAC to help set guidelines for elections agency officials across the country, just as the reform community was locked in legal challenges with McConnell over the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act.

“One of the reasons he started working on HAVA is he didn’t have the background the rest us did on [BCRA], so I had him work on that,” McGehee said. “He did the bulk of the HAVA work for Common Cause, and I think really enjoyed it.”

Hicks declined to comment for this story, but the Capitol Hill aide arrived at the House panel from Common Cause seven years ago. Since then, he has specialized in voting issues and other polling-place-related legislation. Hicks has a bachelor’s degree from Clark University and a law degree from the Catholic University of America.

Prior to working on the committee and at Common Cause, the Boston native was a political appointee in the Clinton White House and an intern for Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.).

Democracy 21 President Fred Wertheimer called Hicks an “excellent appointment” and used news of a possible GOP hold to criticize Senate Republicans for blocking all Obama nominees that await confirmation for executive branch posts.

“It’s all part of the way the city is getting paralyzed,” Wertheimer said. “It’s all getting out of hand.”

Hicks’ confirmation could also bring some much-needed diversity to the lily-white elections and campaign finance world in Washington, D.C. If he gets the Senate’s nod, Hicks would become one of only a handful of black federal elections officials in the nation’s history. No black commissioner has ever been seated at the Federal Election Commission, and two African-American officials have served at the EAC in its short history.

“As someone who’s worked in the campaign finance world for all these years, one thing that the reform community in general has struggled with is having a deep enough reach to go into minority communities — it used to really irritate me,” McGehee said. “Minority communities in this country, especially, have been the most disenfranchised about these issues.”