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Conventional wisdom holds that with each passing election, Congress becomes more divisive, the gulf between the parties deeper and more intractable. But when the 109th Congress convenes next January, there’s one powerful panel certain to buck that trend: the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. That’s because Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, the committee’s senior Republican and presumed chair, and its senior Democrat, Hawaii Sen. Daniel Inouye, have after nearly 40 years together forged one of the Senate’s strongest, most durable friendships. But the two share more than lengthy Senate tenures. Both are World War II veterans whose worldviews were shaped by hard-scrabble childhoods and a life spent in two of America’s last frontiers. “Stevens will tell you Inouye is his brother,” says William Phillips, a former Stevens chief of staff now at Ryan, Phillips, Utrecht & MacKinnon. “The two of them are incapable of feuding with each other.” That bond, however, isn’t merely a quaint relic of a more collegial time. The friendship between Stevens and Inouye has important implications for the Commerce Committee, whose expansive portfolio covers everything from transportation to outer space to telecommunications. Their personal relationship should make it easier to push through a host of serious legislation. “Stevens and Inouye are seamless,” says Honeywell International Inc. chief lobbyist Timothy Keating. “They’ll pick an agenda and work towards it.” Ultimately, that agenda will be informed by subjects of particular importance to Alaska and Hawaii � aviation, fishing and oceans, rural telecom issues, port security. Some 75 percent of Alaskan communities, for example, are accessible only by air; and Stevens, who still has his pilot’s license, has been flying since World War II. “Stevens can certainly inject a lot of his priorities in those bills,” says Walt Disney Co. lobbyist Mitch Rose, another ex-Stevens chief of staff. “Fisheries, Coast Guard, communications, aviation, surface transportation, it’s really a playground for him.” Neither Stevens nor Inouye has made more than vague references to future committee priorities and both men declined to be interviewed before the election. But most panel watchers believe there is far more significance in the departure of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has led the committee for much of the past seven years, than whether Stevens � or Inouye, if the Democrats retake the Senate � is in charge. “There’s not a demonstrable difference in an Inouye/Stevens committee or Stevens/Inouye,” Rose says. DIFFERENT STYLES To be sure, McCain garnered headlines with a series of high-profile hearings on subjects ranging from climate change to media ownership to Amtrak reform. He pushed through a landmark tobacco settlement, and passed key legislation on port security and the creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). But the Arizona Republican has never minded being a lone wolf, and he would sometimes push bills for which he did not necessarily have the votes. As a consequence, committee hearings could be chaotic affairs, with amendments from other members showing up without warning and vote counts rarely certain. “I often tell my clients, ‘Don’t expect any particular outcome, because you have no idea what will happen,’ ” says one lobbyist who knows the committee particularly well. “McCain doesn’t always care whether he wins or loses, so members don’t always know what they’re voting on, the staff can’t prepare their members, and everyone looks around and thinks: ‘Who’s my friend? What do they think? and How do I vote?’ ” the lobbyist adds. Next year is likely to be far different: witness the Appropriations defense subcommittee, which the two men have run since 1989. “The hallmark of a Stevens/Inouye chairmanship is that the deal is brokered and the compromises reached before any committee markup,” notes Chris Putala, a former Senate staffer who is now a telecom lobbyist. “This is not going to be the case where the committee works its will, and things are thrown out for a vote.” COMMON HISTORIES Stevens was appointed to the Senate in 1968; Inouye was elected to the Senate in 1962 and is expected to win his eighth term on Nov. 2. Stevens’ Northern Lights leadership PAC even gave Inouye’s campaign $5,000 in 2003, and another $5,000 in 2004. But their many years as lawmakers together is only the most obvious reason for their close ties. Born less than a year apart, they both passed their formative years during the Depression. Inouye was born in a Japanese ghetto in Honolulu in 1924 and grew up in what he described in his autobiography as “respectable poverty.” His grandparents and father had left their village in Yokoyama, Japan, in 1899 to work in the Hawaiian sugar cane fields. Stevens was born in 1923 in Indianapolis. In 1929, when he was six, his parents divorced. Stevens’ mother and his three siblings moved to California, but he stayed behind to take care of his father, who lost his job in the Depression and became blind, according to a 1994 account of Stevens’ life in the Anchorage Daily News. He took a job selling newspapers on the street. Stevens turns 81 in November; Inouye was 80 in September. They both served in World War II, a dwindling club of senators that, after Sen. Fritz Hollings (D-S.C.) retires in January, will number five � Democrats Daniel Akaka of Hawaii and Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey, Republican John Warner of Virginia, Stevens, and Inouye, who lost his right arm in combat. Perhaps most important, Stevens and Inouye have bonded over their role as senators from the country’s only two non-contiguous states, former U.S. territories with a tradition of interdependence with the federal government. Both Stevens and Inouye feel a duty to assiduously shower their states with all manner of federal earmarks. Both men were also intimately connected with their territories’ quest for statehood. A graduate of Harvard Law School, Stevens was assistant to the secretary of the interior and drafted the provisions for Alaska statehood, which took effect on Jan. 3, 1959. When Hawaii became a state on Aug. 21 that same year, Inouye, a former member of Hawaii’s territorial House and Senate, took his seat as Hawaii’s first member of the U.S. House of Representatives. Stevens is the Senate’s longest-serving Republican, and the president pro tempore, which makes him third in line for the presidency. He is stepping down as chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the plummest of any committee assignment, because of Republican-imposed term limits. But he is no novice to Commerce Committee issues, serving with just one break on the panel since 1972. Stevens has had plenty of hardball political experience as well. He ran the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee during the 1976 election, and despite the Watergate scandal two years earlier, Republicans held their ground. Stevens consequently was elected the Republican whip, the party’s No. 2 Senate slot, and in 1980, when the GOP gained Senate control, became majority whip. In 1984, he lost a bid for Senate majority leader to then-Sen. Bob Dole (R-Kan.). Inouye joined Commerce in 1969 and is now the No. 2 Democrat there, behind Hollings. He is No. 2 on Appropriations, too. Over the years, Inouye has had his share of high-profile assignments: He was a member of the 1973 Watergate committee; and in the mid-1980s, he chaired the Senate select committee on the Iran-Contra scandal. Kevin Curtin, the Commerce Committee’s former chief counsel and staff director who now has his own lobby shop, remembers one particularly poignant moment with Inouye. “There was a tort reform bill, and it had a cap on punitive damages, and there was a provision for the loss of a limb. I think the cap was $250,000,” recalls Curtin. “And there was all this hubbub. And then Inouye speaks, and he rarely does: ‘I would just say to my colleagues: How much is an arm worth? I can assure you, it’s worth more than $250,000.’ “ Says Curtin: “That amendment went down that day and never came back.” Both Stevens and Inouye have reputations as tough lawmakers. Stevens’ temper is famous in the Senate. Inouye, conversely, is famously low-key. “He’s very open, and slow to make up his mind,” says one lobbyist who has dealt with the committee for two decades. “But when he puts together a bill and is ready to take it to the Senate floor, there can be consequences for not signing on.” Just ask the cable industry. Inouye chaired the Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and shepherded through the 1992 Cable Television Consumer Protection and Competition Act. “Cable wouldn’t sign on to the 1992 Cable Act,” recalls one cable lobbyist about the seminal legislation that re-regulated the industry. “The National Association of Broadcasters signed on, and NAB got exactly what they wanted: must carry and retransmission consent,” he says, referring to the requirement that cable companies must carry the signals of local affiliates and, in some cases, pay those affiliates for the privilege of carrying them. “If we had signed on to his rate regulation, then those two provisions wouldn’t have been so harsh,” says the lobbyist. “I believe there were consequences for not signing on.” LOOKING FORWARD Telecommunications is one major issue facing the committee. Both Stevens and Inouye are seen as allies of long distance providers, not the former Bells. Aside from that, and despite intense speculation, there are few clues as to how they will proceed. Except one. Like everything else he does, Alaska will be foremost in Stevens’ mind. He and McCain have tussled for years over Stevens’ generous apportionment of pork. Alaska and Hawaii’s major telecom issue is reviving the universal service fund, which provides subsidies for advanced rural telecom services and is largely supported by land-line carriers whose market share is shrinking. The cable and Internet telephony industries don’t contribute to the fund. “In a world of more deregulation, how will all these advanced new services be available?” asks Gene Kimmelman of Consumers Union. “That is front and center for Sens. Stevens and Inouye. I think that will be framing all the telecom issues that will come.” Telecom, of course, is one of dozens of areas touched by Commerce; the committee oversees not just the Federal Communications Commission but the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the National Transportation Safety Board, and confirms nominations to their boards. And it will continue to play a major role in homeland security, with Stevens and Inouye helping defeat efforts last month to transfer control of the Coast Guard and TSA to the new Senate Committee on Homeland Security, a move recommended by the Sept. 11 Commission. “We really are going to have two of the Senate’s best major players turning their focus to this committee,” says Williams & Jensen lobbyist Bertram Carp. “They totally know how to run a committee and get other members to participate.”

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