Rockefeller won't run for Senate in 2014
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Jay Rockefeller, a Democrat who has represented West Virginia in the U.S. Senate since 1985, announced Friday that he will not seek a sixth term in the Senate.
Rockefeller, 75, made his announcement at 11 a.m. Friday at the state Culture Center in Charleston.
He thanked "all West Virginians, who took me in, transformed me and supported me.
"There's a tremendous amount of greatness here," Rockefeller said, "but also a lot of hurt, and I have sought to ease life and the burdens of people who are forgotten."
Rockefeller's efforts to improve the Mountain State's economy included bringing the Toyota plant to Buffalo, which created 1,200 jobs and $1.3 billion in investments. Rockefeller also helped attract 20 other Japanese companies to West Virginia.
Rockefeller's support for aviation and airport improvements brought $400 million to the state, including $50 million to Charleston's Yeager Airport.
Throughout his public life, Rockefeller said, he has "been proud to stand with the working men and women of America -- miners, steelworkers, teachers and nurses, and everyone who deserves a fair wage, a safe place to work and basic health care."
He said his decision not to run for re-election was motivated by considerations of family, and not because of an election challenge from Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who announced shortly after November's election that she would run for Rockefeller's Senate seat in 2014.
At the presidential level, West Virginia has voted increasingly Republican. Some political observers predicted a close race between Rockefeller and Capito, partly because of Rockefeller's support for President Obama and his Affordable Care Act.
In his speech Friday, Rockefeller continued to strongly support the new health-care law.
"I know it's going to benefit West Virginia more than any other state," the state's senior senator said.
Over the years, Rockefeller's many successful efforts to improve health care include:
• Leading the passage of the Coal Act in 1992, which guaranteed 200,000 retired coal miners, along with their wives and widows, the lifetime health benefits coal companies had promised them.
Rockefeller called his efforts to pass that 1992 legislation his "peak moment" as senator. "I threatened to keep the Senate in session over Christmas if they did not pass the 1992 act."
• Writing legislation that created the Children's Health Insurance Programs, or CHIP, which, in 2011, covered 40,000 children in West Virginia and 8 million children nationwide.
• Supporting passage of the Affordable Care Act, which will provide health insurance for 42 million Americans, including 300,000 West Virginians.
The Affordable Care Act also will prevent insurance companies from denying coverage to people with serious illnesses.
"The insurance companies did not like it, which makes me very proud," Rockefeller said. "They start dumping people when they get sick."
The new legislation also requires insurance companies to spend between 80 percent and 85 percent of all their money on providing health care, not on executive salaries and business expenses.
Rockefeller also mentioned his efforts to help schools with access to the Internet grow from 14 percent to 92 percent.
Rockefeller recently struggled to preserve the Appalachian Regional Commission's highway programs after Republicans tried to remove some of those projects.
"Corridor H is one of the large factors in the future of West Virginia," he said. "It is now back in there."
Corridor H will connect Interstate 79 near Weston to Interstate 81 near Strasburg, Va. The four-lane highway will pass by several West Virginia towns, including Buckhannon, Parsons, Thomas, Davis and Moorefield.
Rockefeller recently criticized the coal industry for using what he called scare tactics against people who wanted to regulate it more thoroughly, by improving mine safety standards and cutting carbon emissions.
"The coal industry can do so well, but it has to keep carbon from being emitted," he said Friday. "Coal is the most plentiful energy source, but it has to be clean."
Rockefeller said that, despite some recent medical problems, health did not factor into his decision not to run in 2014.
"I have this stupid bum leg, which is annoying," he said, "but a few days ago, I had a physical in the Senate and came through with flying colors."
Rockefeller's wife, Sharon, who introduced him at Friday's event, said, "He is known for his humor and his wit. When he asked me to marry him, I didn't know whether he was serious or not," she said. "He said we could be married on April Fools Day . . . .
"We made West Virginia our home almost 50 years ago. West Virginia gave Jay the most crucial crossroad in his life, when he was 27 and working for VISTA" in Emmons.
With Rockefeller planning to retire in January 2015, Sharon said, "I really look forward to spending more time with him. We will be forever grateful to West Virginia."
Pat Maroney, a Charleston lawyer and former co-chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party, told the senator, "Your eight years as governor were probably the best of our generation."
Maroney praised Rockefeller for pushing legislation that helped veterans and coal miners with health care, that improved mine-safety enforcement and helped seniors pay for Medicare benefits.
"Your most courageous and monumental act was when you stood shoulder to shoulder with the president in passing the Affordable Care Act," Maroney told Rockefeller. "You lifted this state upward and onward . . . .
"If John F. Kennedy were still alive, he would write a new chapter in 'Profiles in Courage' about you."
Tom Goodwin, chief aide to Rockefeller during his first term as governor and a Charleston lawyer today, said, "Senator Rockefeller changed everything. He literally devoted his entire adult life to the development of this state."
Rockefeller first came to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer in 1964. He was elected to the state Legislature two years later, and was elected secretary of state two years after that.
He ran for governor and lost in 1972, then served four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College before running for governor again. That time he succeeded, and served eight years in office.
As his second term drew to an end, Rockefeller won a close race for a U.S. Senate seat against Morgantown businessman John Raese. That seat was left without an incumbent when Sen. Jennings Randolph retired. Rockefeller was never seriously threatened in any of his re-election campaigns since.
His current Senate term ends Jan. 3, 2015.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.