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There's been a lot of speculation that Senator Jay Rockefeller (D. WV) won't seek re-election in 2014 because of his speech on the Senate floor back in June where he called out the coal industry's campaign of fear and lies:

He also told coal supporters to wake up and face the reality on climate change.  So of course big coal and the West Virginia Chamber Of Commerce want to see him gone.  They have their ideal puppet for the coal industry in Shelley Moore Capito:

Members of the business community were shocked by Rockefeller's speech, said West Virginia Chamber of Commerce President Steve Roberts said.
When a reporter called, Roberts answered his phone, "This is Capito for United States Senate headquarters." - Charleston Daily Mail, 6/20/12
But with Rockefeller being Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman, the coal industry might actually suffer from his absence:

If Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) decides not to return to the upper chamber, companies that ship bulk goods — primarily public utilities and industrial plants, including those in coal country — stand to lose. Big. And the freight railroads, which fight tooth and nail against shippers’ challenges to the rates they charge, stand to gain in equal amount.

Rockefeller has been a staunch advocate for so-called captive shippers, companies served by a single railroad that say they’re the victims of monopolistic practices by an industry almost entirely controlled by four railroads. - Politico, 12/12/12

The freight railroads charge high rates so they can improve and update their aging infrastructure:
It’s an arcane, difficult, long-running fight between interests with constituencies and clout — not the sort of thing most lawmakers are eager to take on. But Rockefeller has not only waded into the fight, he’s come out swinging, saying in the past that the railroads are “grossly overcharging” and vowing that “railroad reform is going to happen.

He has repeatedly pushed for changes at the Surface Transportation Board, the agency charged with adjudicating rate disputes brought by shippers.

“I’ve been working on this for 26 years, so there’s a good deal of frustration in me,” Rockefeller said at a 2010 hearing on the subject. - Politico, 12/12/12

Shelley Sahling-Zart, general counsel at Lincoln Electric System, fears that a possible Rockefeller retirement would have a negative affect not only for the interests of the captive shippers but also because of the time it would require to bring someone else up to speed:
Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., speaks to a reporter as he arrives for a vote on the Senate Floor in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2009. (Newscom TagID: rollcallpix048418)     [Photo via Newscom]
Sahling-Zart called Rockefeller a “champion” and a “leader” who has “years and years of institutional knowledge” who would be tough to replace on their issues. The other lawmaker often at the forefront of this fight, Sen. Herb Kohl (D-Wis.), has already announced his retirement. - Politico, 12/12/12
Small, rural airports would also be affected if Rockefeller retires.  Rural interests have greater influence in the Senate than in the House.  With Rockefeller as the Chairman of the Commerce Committee, rural airports have power to preserve the Essential Air Service program.  The program was created in 1978 as part of airline deregulation.  The Essential Air Service program has always been viewed as a top target for the Republicans budget ax:
“That is going to be a target for Republicans going forward,” said one former committee aide. He noted that in Rockefeller’s absence, the lawmaker with the next biggest stake in the Essential Air Service program is Sen. Mark Begich (D-Alaska), who isn’t senior enough to exert much leverage on the subject.
The Essential Air Service program pays subsidies to airlines to keep them flying into small airports that otherwise wouldn’t be profitable enough to provide regularly scheduled service.  The program fights to keep airline service in rural areas going because having scheduled airline flights helps attract and maintain businesses.

Now giant airlines on the other hand would greatly benefit if Rockefeller retires:

On the flip side, larger airports may benefit if Rockefeller leaves, because he has staunchly opposed one of the marquee requests the airport lobby had as part of the FAA bill — raising the current cap on per-segment flight fees, called the Passenger Facility Charge. PFCs are now capped at $4.50 per flight segment. Many airports aren’t yet charging the maximum PFC, but airports that are maxed out are almost always large ones.
Rockefeller’s view, according to one airport source, was that people flying into and out of small airports typically have to travel through hubs to get almost anywhere. The more flights a person has to take, the more they’ll pay in PFCs. - Politico, 12/12/12
Since Begich doesn't have seniority, Rockefeller could be replaced by another Democratic Senator from a more urban state and could have a dramatic effect:
The next most senior person on Commerce would be Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), whose state includes Boston Logan International Airport — although Kerry, regularly discussed as a potential second-term Cabinet member for President Barack Obama, may not be a senator much longer.
Next in the seniority list is Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), who has several large airports in her state.

But Boxer, who has made her bones as a progressive and environmentalist, would have to give up her chairmanship of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee to take the reins at Commerce. And she told POLITICO through a spokeswoman that she won’t make the leap, saying she “has yet to finish her work” on the environment committee. - Politico, 12/12/12

Now there is speculation that Boxer could switch committees because the Commerce Committee would allow Boxer, who is very consumer friendly, a chance to closely oversee matters of consumer rights and safety for transportation.  The Committee also handles technology and telecom issues.  But it Boxer decides to stay where she is, Senator Bill Nelson (D. FL) would be next in line:
With Boxer taking herself out of the running, the domino then falls toward Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), whose public role on Commerce has mostly been as an advocate for spaceflight programs and jobs at Kennedy Space Center. However, given how important tourism is to Florida, Nelson would probably be a reliable voice in favor of the airline industry. - Politico, 12/12/12
Rural businesses could lose big if Rockefeller decides to not seek re-election.  His seniority in the Senate has been a key factor in delivering for West Virginia and even the coal industry could lose big to the freight railroads.  Shelley Moore Capito might be the coal industry's ideal candidate but she lacks the seniority and power to prevent the coal industry from getting hit by the freight railroads.  Plus Capito will have to deal with a primary challenger from the Club For Growth:

In a statement, club president Chris Chocola pointed to numerous votes that make Capito unpalatable to the conservative economic group, including her support for campaign finance reform, the auto bailout, “Cash for Clunkers,” a deal to raise the debt ceiling, and No Child Left Behind.

“Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government,” Chocola said. “That’s not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races.” He compared Capito to establishment Republicans who fell short in November — Rep. Denny Rehberg in Montana, Rep. Rick Berg in North Dakota and former Rep. Heather Wilson in New Mexico. - Washington Post, 11/26/12

Local Tea Party organizers aren't happy about Capito's candidacy either:

U.S. Representative Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) addresses the American Banker Regulatory Symposium in Washington September 20, 2011.  REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst   (UNITED STATES - Tags: POLITICS BUSINESS)
Dale Anderson, a Huntington tea party leader, delivered a harsher assessment, saying he would withhold his support until Capito explained her votes in favor of bailouts and the PATRIOT Act.

“She’s like the Christine Todd Whitman of West Virginia,” Anderson said. “She’s not as right wing as I’d like her. She’s not an Allen West. She’s not a Michele Bachmann. People want explanations where she can say, ‘This is how and why I voted this way.’” - Politico, 11/26/12

The Club For Growth is certainly going to find a primary challenger to take on Capito.  Especially since Capito recently expressed some wiggle room on raising taxes to reach a deal to avoid the "fiscal cliff":

Pressed on whether lawmakers can make a deal, Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., strayed from the party line in an interview on's "Power Play." She predicted a short-term deal to avoid the fiscal cliff and suggested tax rate hikes could be on the table next year.
"What I think you will see is a retention of the tax rates as they are for a year, with the promise that we will get into looking at all revenues -- and that could include tax rates," she said. "We will look at all -- the tax code in itself, and we will also look at spending cuts and entitlements." - Fox News, 11/16/12
The Club For Growth may have their ideal candidate in Congressman David McKinley (R. WV-1) plus four time loser, John Raese, might be stupid enough to give it another try.

Even Rockefeller's colleague, Joe Manchin (D. WV), doesn't even have the same power Rockefeller has and he's more in the pocket of big coal than Rockefeller.  Now if Rockefeller retires, there are a number of Democrats that could be decent candidates that could still hold this seat.  One prominent candidate is former West Virginia Democratic Party Chairman, Mike Callaghan, has shown interest in running for Rockefeller's seat if Rockefeller decides to retire but he's also looking at giving another try at winning Capito's seat in the 2nd District.  Here's a Tweet from Charleston Daily Mail's Ry Rivard:

David Nir pointed out that Capito's district has become bluer so Capito running for Senate at least opens up a possible pick up opportunity for us.  Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, ex-Gov. Bob Wise, ex-Sen. Carte Goodwin, Congressman Rick Rahall (D. WV-3) and state Senate Majority Leader John Unger are also potential candidates to run for Rockefeller's seat.  But whoever wins this seat won't have the same clout and pull as Rockefeller has.

Right now, Rockefeller isn't focused on re-election, he's focused on preserving Medicaid, Medicare and Social Security from being part of a "grand bargain":

West Virginia’s Jay Rockefeller and Tom Harkin of Iowa are circulating a letter among their Democratic colleagues that calls on the president to stand firm on revenue, entitlement programs and spending cuts. They’re hoping to get as many as 30 Senate Democrats to sign on, Rockefeller said.

The letter, which was obtained by POLITICO, is dramatic in its policy prescriptions to avert the fiscal cliff.

For one, it says the president should insist on $1 in revenue for each $1 in spending cuts. It also says that the $917 billion in spending cuts enacted under last year’s agreement to increase the debt ceiling should be counted toward the next round of deficit reduction.

“These cuts are real, and have an effect on everything from housing to education,” according to the letter. “To ignore the significance of these cuts — by not counting them — further threatens programs that benefit working families.” - Politico, 11/14/12

An August poll, courtesy of R.L. Repass & Partners, showed Rockefeller trailing Capito by 4 points, 48/44.  But David Nir also pointed out that Repass used an odd combination of live and online respondents and were way off this past election by how big of a margin Governor Earl Ray Tomblin (D) was ahead by.  Repass had Tomblin ahead by 21 points when he actually won by 5 points.  So until the DSCC does their own polling, Rockefeller's political future is up in the air.

My theory is Rockefeller doesn't want to run for re-election and I'm sure he feels confident that Democrats can find someone strong enough to hold this seat.  But I think Rockefeller knows there's too much at stake if he retires.  There's no one with enough clout to look out for West Virginia's small, rural airports and no one with enough power to take on the freight railroads from charging the crap out of the coal industry.  So until he knows for sure if he is still strong enough to win, I'm sure he'll duke it out for another term.  His former colleague, Robert Byrd (D) stayed in the Senate until his 90s and even he spoke out against the coal industry before his passing:

Let’s speak the truth. The most important factor in maintaining coal-related jobs is demand for coal. Scapegoating and stoking fear among workers over the permitting process is counter-productive.

Coal companies want a large stockpile of permits in their back pockets because that implies stability to potential investors. But when coal industry representatives stir up public anger toward federal regulatory agencies, it can damage the state’s ability to work with those agencies to West Virginia’s benefit. This, in turn, may create the perception of ineffectiveness within the industry, which can drive potential investors away. - U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D. WV), 12/3/09

Rockefeller's speech in June echoed Byrd's call for change and accountability from the coal industry.  So even though big coal is pissed at Rockefeller for calling them out on their lies and fear tactics, they still have a lot to lose with Rockefeller's possible departure.  Without Rockefeller, coal is doomed to pay big to the freight railroads.  

Originally posted to pdc on Thu Dec 13, 2012 at 12:48 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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