Rockefeller and his wife, Sharon, celebrate after he won election to the U.S. Senate in 1984.
Gazette file photo
In 1987, during his first term as a U.S. senator, Jay Rockefeller (center) meets with then-Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va. (right), and a visiting delegation of Japanese businessmen, including Tetsuya Horie (left).
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- After U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced Friday that he won't run for re-election in 2014, political, union and business leaders lined up to praise him."Saying 'thank you' does not go far enough to express the gratitude we have for Jay Rockefeller," said Larry Puccio, chairman of the West Virginia Democratic Party. "Many children in West Virginia are living better lives because of Jay, our veterans are getting the respect they so deserve because of Jay, and our seniors feel more secure because of Jay."Cecil Roberts, president of the United Mine Workers union, said, "This is a sad day. It's been about 40 years since I first met Jay."I have a picture of Jay and my son on a Cabin Creek ball field when he was 8. He is now 43," said Roberts, who attended Rockefeller's announcement at the Culture Center on Friday. "Jay was governor and he helped renovate our ball field,"
Roberts singled out Rockefeller's central efforts to pass the 1992 Coal Act to restore and guarantee health-care benefits to "people who worked for companies that went out of business, along with their wives and widows. My mother was one of them."I am here today representing my mother and thousands of other people who benefit from Jay's accomplishment in 1992," Roberts said.President Obama issued a statement about Rockefeller, "For more than four decades, he has continued to fight tirelessly on [working families'] behalf."Obama also noted Rockefeller's strong support for health-care reform. "A longtime champion of health-care reform, Jay was also instrumental in the fight to make sure that nobody in America has to go broke because they get sick," the president stated. "Michelle and I join the people of West Virginia in thanking Senator Rockefeller for a lifetime of service, and I look forward to continuing to work with him over the next two years."Ken Hall, general secretary-treasurer of the Teamsters union, also attended Friday's event.
"I think Jay Rockefeller is one of the last statesmen in the U.S. Senate," Hall said. "He's been a friend of ours, but he has always been balanced when it come to labor and management issues."Hall cited Rockefeller's involvement in the push to keep a Rite-Aid warehouse in Poca open. The company announced that the Putnam County warehouse would close in 1999, then decided to keep it open several months later."Rockefeller got involved. He held a meeting with Rite Aid's CEO, brought me in, and Senator Byrd was also there," Hall said. "By May 2000, Rockefeller convinced them to keep the warehouse in West Virginia. It is still open today."A lot of politicians tell you things to get re-elected. Jay Rockefeller tells you things he thinks are best for West Virginia."Kent Carper, president of the Kanawha County Commission, called Rockefeller "a workhorse for Kanawha County.
"He is solely responsible for NGK coming to Kanawha County, which brought in hundreds of new jobs, and had a key role in the opening of the Kureha manufacturing facility in Belle," Carper said.
He also praised Rockefeller's efforts to bring Toyota to Buffalo and to spur the recent opening of the Gestamp plant in South Charleston."Senator Rockefeller has brought millions and millions of dollars to Kanawha County and the great state of West Virginia," Carper said.Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin said, "As an original sponsor of the Children's Health Insurance Program, [Rockefeller] made it possible for more than 143,000 of West Virginia's youngest citizens to receive the quality health care they deserve."After the Sago and Aracoma mine disasters, Tomblin said, Rockefeller spearheaded efforts to improve mine-safety legislation, "including longer-lasting self-rescuers, quicker incident notification and stricter fines."Thousands of military veterans now have access to benefits, a state nursing home and home health care because Senator Rockefeller led the charge on these and many other important veterans' issues," Tomblin said.Rep. David B. McKinley, R-W.Va., said, "I want to thank Jay for his nearly half-century of public service to the state of West Virginia and this country.
"From his beginnings as a VISTA volunteer in 1964 to his service as delegate, secretary of state, governor and senator, Jay has devoted much of his life to working on behalf of the people of the Mountain State."Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said, "Gayle and I join all West Virginians in thanking Jay for representing our state for more than 40 years . . . . When I first arrived in Washington two and a half years ago, I couldn't have received a warmer welcome from Jay and his staff."In all his decades of public service, Jay has followed one guiding principle: to improve the lives of West Virginians. Jay's heart has always been true, and we share the goal of serving the beautiful people of the state we love."Anne Barth, executive director of TechConnect West Virginia and a former spokeswoman for late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., thanked Rockefeller "for the tremendous service and leadership he has provided West Virginia over nearly five decades."He continues to be a tireless advocate for advancing the state and its people," Barth said. "TechConnect West Virginia looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Rockefeller over the next two years as we work to turn innovation into enterprise."Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., who recently announced plans to run for Rockefeller's seat, said, "Senator Rockefeller has served our state with distinction for over 40 years. Jay has always been a true gentlemen and hardworking statesman."While we disagree on many policy issues, the number-one concern for both of us has always been the welfare of West Virginians," Capito said. "I consider him a personal friend."Reach Paul J. Nyden at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-5164.