Incoming Republican chairs include ‘powerful friends’ of public broadcasting, says APTS president

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SAN DIEGO — Patrick Butler, public television’s chief advocate on Capitol Hill, wants to reassure broadcasters who are nervous about the incoming Republican majority, particularly on the powerful Senate side.

In a speech at the annual American Public Television Fall Marketplace, Butler said that he “detected some anxiety in the public television industry that we will be going to hell in a handbasket now that Republicans control the entire Congress” after this month’s midterm elections.

APTS President Pat Butler addresses the crowd at American Public Television's Fall Marketplace in San Diego Wednesday. (Photo: Ed Shenkman)

APTS President Pat Butler addresses the crowd at American Public Television’s Fall Marketplace in San Diego Wednesday. (Photo: Ed Shenkman)

“I’ve come to San Diego to tell you that it ain’t necessarily so.”

Butler, president of the Association of Public Television Stations, reminded the crowd that GOP support for pubcasting goes back even to Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater — known as “Mr. Conservative” — who helped Joan Ganz Cooney, the niece of a friend, get the first $1 million to create Sesame Street in the 1960s.

And even now, Butler noted, “public broadcasting does have powerful friends among Republicans in the Senate.”

One is Sen. Thad Cochran of Mississippi, new chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee. His father was the first chair of the Mississippi Public Broadcasting Commission in the late ’60s, Butler said.

Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, incoming chair of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and Related Agencies Subcommittee, which oversees CPB, “is a big fan of what we do.” Moran holds another important position: As chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, tasked with getting Republicans elected, he was a main architect of the midterm GOP takeover, Butler said. “So people on the Hill will be inclined to give him a lot of deference. I’m heartened by his position.”

Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee will chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee that handles Ready To Learn funding; Butler served with Alexander on former Majority Leader Howard Baker’s staff. “It’s not exactly clear if he will be a champion for us,” Butler said, “but he’s a person I can talk to. And we intend to have those discussions very soon.”

But challenges still loom. Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, new chair of the Budget Committee, “hasn’t been particularly friendly to our interests,” Butler said. And Sessions is in charge of the budget resolution that will provide overall guidance to the Senate on the shape of federal funding.

“There’s no question that our work is going to be a lot harder over the next few years than it has been, even in the challenging years we’ve just emerged from,” Butler said. “But we’ve been working especially hard on the Republican side over the last four years” by explaining public broadcasting’s role in education, public safety and creating well-informed citizens, he said. “And we’ve been quietly converting skeptics and critics into supporters of our work.”

The APT Fall Marketplace concludes Thursday.