With Dingell out, the race to be the top Democrat on technology is wide open

February 24

Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), left, congratulates Rep. John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) for his tenure in the House. On June 7, 2013, Dingell became the longest-serving member of Congress. (Michel du Cille/ The Washington Post)

Joining a wave of other lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection, Rep. John Dingell (D-Mich.) is calling it quits. As the longest-serving member of Congress ever with 58 years in the House, Dingell has a unique kind of credibility when he says the body has become an "obnoxious" place to work.

Already, talk is turning to who will succeed the veteran congressman. But Dingell's departure will surely shake up another burgeoning competition over who gets to be the top Democrat on a committee that makes key decisions about technology. With Dingell out of the picture, the spotlight now shines on two more junior lawmakers on the House Energy and Commerce Committee.

Earlier this year, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) — the ranking liberal on the committee — announced that he would be stepping down at the end of the term, too. Within days, Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.) and Rep. Frank Pallone (D-N.J.) both said they'd be seeking to take over Waxman's role on the committee. But in a town where seniority often takes precedence, Dingell outranked them both.

Dingell was well-placed to step in for Waxman on the committee. In fact, it's a position he's played before — twice — and was ousted most recently when Waxman himself dislodged him from the post. Until his retirement announcement, Dingell did not rule out trying to reclaim his old title. He also hasn't been afraid to engage with new, potentially disruptive technologies. Here he is trying on Google Glass last year:

The House Energy and Commerce Committee is one of the most influential in Congress. On technology alone, it claims jurisdiction over the Federal Communications Commission, Internet governance, cybersecurity, wireless communications, the television industry and other areas. Its Republican leadership is currently working on a major effort to rewrite the rules that govern the FCC, which in turn is going to become a big lobbying battle over the future of technology regulation.

In his third stint as the committee's ranking Democrat, Dingell would have been a formidable force on technology issues. Now, it seems he's content to leave the fight over that role to others.

Brian Fung covers technology for The Washington Post, focusing on telecom, broadband and digital politics. Before joining the Post, he was the technology correspondent for National Journal and an associate editor at the Atlantic.
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