Sen. Jay Rockefeller said Friday that his special travel arrangements when going from Washington, D.C., to West Virginia are necessary because of a serious knee injury he suffered several years ago.
The Washington Examiner, a national conservative publication, this week criticized Rockefeller, D-W.Va., for spending too much federal money on traveling to West Virginia. According to the Examiner, Rockefeller’s travel costs over the past three years were more than those for all but 11 U.S. senators. “He travels home almost exclusively via private charter plane at $4,400 per trip and sends the bill to taxpayers,” the Examiner reported in an article published Thursday.
Rockefeller, who will retire at the end of this year, said his travel requirements are necessitated by an April 2009 accident, when he fell on the rain-slickened steps outside the Mountainlair student union at West Virginia University, in Morgantown.
“Senator Rockefeller deals with ongoing, significant pain and problems with his legs that affect mobility,” Rockefeller spokesman Andrew Beckner said Friday.
Rockefeller told the Gazette-Mail on Friday, “West Virginians who’ve visited with me in recent years understand that I’m dealing with ongoing, significant pain and problems in both legs that make it hard to sit, stand and walk.
“After I tore all four tendons in my left knee in 2009, I had immediate surgery, and underwent a similar procedure in August of 2011. Despite regular physical therapy, the damage is likely permanent. It simply may not get any better,” Rockefeller said.
“I deeply cherish coming home to West Virginia, and do so as often as possible — by both car and airplane. But in recent years my doctor has told me to be more cautious and to make special considerations when traveling.”
Beckner said, “Senator Rockefeller is a good steward of tax dollars. His office expenditures are below the average of his Senate colleagues specifically because he believes in being fair and judicious with the resources his office is allocated. He also provides a percentage of his salary to pay for office operations.”
The Examiner reported that Rockefeller’s 32 trips in the past three years cost taxpayers $141,408 for the chartered aircraft.
The newspaper also reported that Rockefeller left Washington to visit West Virginia fewer than 11 times a year over the past three years, a figure that Beckner called “disingenuous.”
Beckner said, “Through the time period the Examiner highlights, the Senator spent nearly 100 days in West Virginia,” Beckner said. “They suggest he wasn’t in West Virginia at all from June to September of 2011. That’s true — because he was preparing and recovering from extensive surgical repair on all of his knee tendons. Despite that, his aggregate number of days in West Virginia totaled well over a month that year, meaning he was quite busy visiting West Virginia up to his period of surgery and immediately following his recovery.”
“My ongoing pain and mobility challenges that affect my travel are deeply frustrating to me. But, I have remained committed to doing all I can to continue to come home every chance I get. There is no better place to be and no better people on earth,” Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller, 77, will retire when his current term ends in January.
Reach Paul J. Nyden at email@example.com or 304-348-5164.