Sen. John Davidson “Jay” Rockefeller IV’s announcement Friday that he will not seek a new term in 2014 may not have been unexpected, but it still was surprising.
First elected in 1984 after serving two terms as governor, Rockefeller will have represented West Virginia in the Senate for 30 years when his term ends in two years. A whole generation of West Virginians grew up with Rockefeller as the state’s “junior senator,” serving with elder statesman Sen. Robert C. Byrd until Byrd’s death in 2010.
Rockefeller, 75, a great-grandson of oil tycoon John D. Rockefeller, first came to the state in 1964 as a VISTA volunteer and never left. His commitment to the people of the state – especially his championing of veterans’ affairs and children’s health issues – cannot be questioned. He has made a difference in people’s lives both here and throughout the country.
It may not be accurate to describe Rockefeller as a moderate, but he certainly is not as rigid in his views as some other Democrats. But when voting on certain issues, he never left any doubt about which party he belonged to, especially in recent years. This has hurt his image in West Virginia as the state has become more conservative, especially in national politics.
Rockefeller was one of the first senators to publicly endorse the candidacy of Barack Obama when he announced he would run for president in 2008, and then championed the president’s health care policy, much to the chagrin of many in the state. Obama has never been popular here, and, that was underscored in the 2012 Democratic Primary when Texas prison inmate Keith Judd won 40 percent of the vote.
Rockefeller also made few friends here by his recent assessment of what he believes to be the coal industry’s dim future and by constantly voting with the Obama administration in its hard stand on carbon emissions from coal-fueled power plants.
When West Virginia’s Second District Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced recently she would seek Rockefeller’s Senate seat in 2014, many pundits believed if she, as is widely expected, becomes the GOP candidate, she would have a good chance to win Rockefeller’s seat.
At the end of the day, however, Rockefeller has been a good and thoughtful representative for the people of West Virginia. He has done much good for the state and its residents, and like Byrd, his influence in Washington will be missed. However, the state is changing and Rockefeller’s views are not necessarily in step with the views of a majority of our residents.
Sen. Joe Manchin has shown he is willing to be a voice for moderation and we think this will help his career in the future. And if Capito does win this seat in 2014, this will mean West Virginia will have two centrist politicians representing the state.
There is no doubt that despite his immense wealth and his New York roots Rockefeller is a true West Virginian. And we are happy to hear he will continue to be a West Virginian after his departure from the U.S. Senate. His voice still needs to be heard on many issues facing the state.