When U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller revealed he will not run for re-election next year, West Virginia Democrat leaders began looking for someone to run in his place.
That won't be former Gov. Gaston Caperton. He has no intention of seeking public office again, Caperton has said.
Obviously, Caperton would have been a very attractive candidate for Democrats. U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., already has indicated she will run for the Senate seat next year. To date, we have heard of no potential Democrat candidates anywhere near her caliber.
That would explain why some Democrats would love to see Caperton's name on the ballot. His record - as governor from 1989-97, as a very successful businessman and as a highly regarded education leader - would make him appealing to voters.
As the state's chief executive, Caperton led a much-needed, dramatic change in how West Virginia residents view government spending and debt.
Back in the bad old days, governors and legislators were in the habit of approving expensive new programs, often to appeal to public employee unions, without regard to how future generations would pay for them. Caperton demanded successfully that lawmakers change that. It was on his watch that West Virginians began paying down our unfunded liabilities rather than building up new ones.
Caperton made public education one of the keystones of his administration, taking on the big teachers unions and pushing for reforms on behalf of students.
After his stint as governor, he went on to teach in higher education and to head the College Board for about 15 years. He led that institution, which handles the SAT college admissions tests, to a major expansion. In the process, Caperton used the College Board as a platform to both urge public schools be reformed and accomplish improvements himself. Expansion of the College Board's Advanced Placement program was a boon for high school students.
Caperton would have been a formidable candidate for the Senate. At the same time, Caperton's dedication to improving education bears attention. In discussing the issue recently, he had an important recommendation for West Virginians. While he praised Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and legislators for enacting a major school reform law earlier this year, Caperton remarked that occasional improvement campaigns are not enough. Constant action to improve schools is vital, he said. "It's got to be every day, every year," Caperton said.
He is absolutely right about that - and that is something West Virginians should keep in mind.