An honorable career
U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller’s announcement that he won’t seek reelection in 2014 set off a flurry of headlines — and no doubt political strategy sessions — across the Mountain State last week.
Since he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1984 and served as governor for eight years before that, many West Virginians can’t remember a time when Rockefeller wasn’t one of the state’s major leaders and strongest voices.
While he was depicted by opponents at first as something of a carpetbagger and a rich man’s son, he managed to overcome such labels. Throughout his political career, he has been a hard worker, often pushing ideas and causes that he thought would help average folks.
For example, he was a watchdog for military veterans’ benefits and an advocate of reforming health care insurance so more Americans could afford to be covered. He was a prime mover for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) that covers millions of kids who wouldn’t otherwise have medical benefits.
At the same time, Rockefeller was a factor with the Senate’s oversight of the nation’s intelligence community, one of those subjects that doesn’t always get publicity.
Last year, he surprised many by arguing that the coal industry is using scare tactics and has been less than forthright in attacking clean air laws. He pointed out that the electric utilities themselves had chosen to phase out some of their coal-fired plants rather than bring them up to speed. Of course, those plants were often replaced by gas-fired facilities, and natural gas is another West Virginia product.
In his remarks, Rockefeller was following the example of U.S. Senator Robert Byrd, who late in his life bemoaned the lock that coal has on many communities – and on the state’s politics.
Still, criticizing King Coal is not something that most West Virginia politicians are brave enough to do. We wondered at the time if Rockefeller planned to run again and how it would all play in the coalfields and among the state’s wheeler dealers.
Despite the headlines about his pending retirement, don’t forget that Rockefeller has almost two more years in the Senate. We hope he will use his time, and newfound freedom, to speak honestly about the state’s and nation’s future and not just seek answers in the past as so many do.