Skip to main content

By now you probably hear the news about Senator Jay Rockefeller (D. WV).  But if you haven't, Rockefeller is calling it quits:

Democratic Sen. Jay Rockefeller will announce Friday that he will not seek a sixth term in 2014, setting the stage for a pitched battle for his Senate seat in West Virginia.

He is slated to announce his plans in Charleston.

Rockefeller, a former two-term governor and current chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, has been in the Senate since 1985. He has sparred in recent years with the state's coal mining industry and is a staunch supporter of President Obama, who is unpopular in the state.

Rockefeller told the Associated Press he wants to spend more time with his family. "I've gotten way out of whack in terms of the time I should spend with my wife and my children and my grandchildren," he said. - USA Today, 1/11/13

I am sad and disappointed to see Rockefeller retire but it's no surprise that he has decided to retire.  There were a few signs indicating that he would be retiring.  Like the PPP showing Rockefeller trailing Congresswoman Shelley Moore Capito (R. WV-2):
Jay Rockefeller, faced Capito in 2014, he would actually trail, 48-44.  She leads by eight with independents and pulls 28% of Democrats—about what a GOP candidate needs to win in this state—to his 12% of Republicans.  Rockefeller has only a 47-41 approval rating. - PPP, 10/6/11
Local polling firm Repass & Partners' August 2012 poll showed the exact same results as PPP.  The reason why Rockefeller's image has taken a hit was for his bold speech on the Senate floor opposing back in June when Senator Rockefeller spoke out against Senator Jim Inhofe's (R. OK) resolution disapproving against new Environmental Protection Agency regulations meant to curb certain toxic emissions from coal power plants.  The resolution was defeated, 53 to 46:
I oppose this resolution because I care so much about West Virginians.

Without good health it's difficult to hold down a job or live the American dream. Chronic illness is debilitating and impacts a family's income, prosperity and ultimately its happiness.

The annual health benefits of the rule are enormous. EPA has relied on thousands of studies that established the serious and long-term impact of these pollutants on premature deaths, heart attacks, hospitalizations, pregnant women, babies and children.

Moreover, it significantly reduces the largest remaining human-caused emissions of mercury -- a potent neurotoxin with fetal impacts. - U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D. WV), The Charleston Gazette, 6/20/12

You can read Rockefeller's speech here:

Rockefeller's has called out big coal's campaign of propaganda and scare tactics on the Senate floor for refusing to make necessary changes to help battle climate change and of course, big coal did not take it well at all:

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
Rockefeller's speech makes me really sad to see him leave but I thank him for speaking the truth on the Senate floor and I hope he continues to battle the coal industry while serving out the rest of his term.  I also thank him for looking out for the safety of coal miners in West Virginia:

A couple decades ago, coal companies were beginning to walk away from that pledge -- leaving a handful of more honorable companies to pay the full tab, and steering two key health benefit funds dangerously toward insolvency and thousands of retirees toward a life without health care coverage.

That's why, beginning in the late 1980s, I fought year after year and shoulder-to-shoulder with miners and advocates to protect the health benefits of tens of thousands of retired coal miners.

This fall, we marked the 20-year anniversary of succeeding in that effort with the passage of my Coal Act of 1992, which created two new funds to protect health and death benefits for retired UMWA miners, their spouses and children.

At the time of its passage, my legislation protected benefits for more than 113,000 retired miners and their families across America. Today, those funds continue providing benefits to nearly 24,000 individuals nationwide including more than 8,200 West Virginians.  

 Over the years, I've heard from miners and their loved ones across our state about what good health -- and the security that comes with having health coverage -- means to them. Some fought right along with me -- even to the very last years of their lives -- to preserve benefits for their fellow UMWA retirees and widows. - Charleston Gazette, 12/15/12

I would also like to thank Senator Rockefeller for standing strong against cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid:
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

Currently 23% of West Virginians are enrolled in Medicaid:
"Medicaid is a lifeline for our nation's most vulnerable families and children. We must not turn our backs on them. We have tough budget decisions to make, and it's essential that we find a real compromise solution.

"That solution should include asking the wealthiest to pay a little more, and not further burden struggling families -- especially when it comes to their health care," Rockefeller said Thursday.

"Our kids need the tools to succeed -- that includes making sure they grow up healthy" and helping their families escape poverty, he said. - Charleston Gazette, 12/6/12

Rockefeller's retirement might seem like good news for Capito, the coal industry and but the joke's on them.  Especially since Rockefeller's seniority made him the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee Chairman:
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.

The only people that would benefit from Rockefeller's departure are the major airlines:

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
So yeah, Capito, big coal and the West Virginia Chamber Of Commerce might be grinning now but when they realize that neither Capito or Rockefeller's colleague, Senator Joe Manchin (D. WV) yield the same power that Rockefeller had, they're going to regret his retirement.

Now the seat is in play.  I've been ready for this.  Before you start screaming that this seat is lost, remember two things, 1. We have a big bench of Democrats who are interested in this seat.  Check out David Nir's diary from this morning:

2.  Capito being the GOP nominee isn't a sure thing.  Not if the Club For Growth has anything to say about it:

“This year, the Republican establishment cheered the U.S. Senate candidacies of Congressmen Denny Rehberg and Rick Berg and former Congresswoman Heather Wilson.  All three had the ‘right’ resumes, and all three had no ‘divisive’ primaries. Yet all three lost in races that were thought to be winnable,” said Club for Growth President Chris Chocola. “These three supposedly ‘electable’ Republican candidates also had something else in common: consistent support for bailouts, debt increases, earmarks, and massive expansions of big-government spending programs.”

“Today, along comes Rep. Shelley Moore Capito. Her candidacy will undoubtedly be cheered by the GOP establishment, and dire warnings will be issued against any ‘divisive’ primary challenges, lest other candidates hurt Capito’s chances of winning,” continued Chocola. “The problem is that Congresswoman Capito’s record looks a whole lot like the establishment candidates who lost this year. Congresswoman Capito has a long record of support of bailouts, pork, and bigger government. She voted to bail out Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, for massive expansions of government-run health insurance, giveaways to big labor, and repeatedly voted to continue funding for wasteful earmarks like an Exploratorium in San Francisco and an Aquarium in South Carolina. That’s not the formula for GOP success in U.S. Senate races.”

“The way back for the Republican Party is the way of Jeff Flake, Ted Cruz, Pat Toomey, Marco Rubio, Ron Johnson, Rand Paul, and Mike Lee.  All were supported by the Club for Growth PAC and grassroots Republicans. All are consistent supporters of limited government principles. All were winners because they could clearly articulate the pro-growth economic message. They are the future of the Republican Party.” - Chris Chocola, Club For Growth President, 11/26/12

So yeah, Capito's not out of the clear yet.  

I can understand why Rockefeller would want to call it quits.  he's been fighting for West virginia for a long time now and he can't put up with the coal industry telling him what to do any more.  Enjoy your retirement Senator, you will be missed.  Thank you and good bye.

Originally posted to pdc on Fri Jan 11, 2013 at 04:30 PM PST.

Also republished by The Democratic Wing of the Democratic Party and In Support of Labor and Unions.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site