The Times West Virginian

Opinion

January 16, 2013

Rockefeller has lasting legacy as state leader

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller has ended months of speculation with his announcement that he will not be seeking re-election in the 2014 election.

Many observers have believed that Rockefeller would decide to step down prior to the next election, but the majority of them didn’t expect his decision to become public so soon.

Rockefeller has been a strong public servant throughout his long tenure in the U.S. Senate — a seat he has held since 1984 following two terms as governor when he won the Senate seat that had been held for many years by Jennings Randolph, who was retiring.

During his terms as governor, he was a frequent visitor to Fairmont, speaking and appearing at many functions. As a United States senator, his visits here have been less frequent.

He will be remembered for his important legislation for children’s health, veterans’ issues and coal mine safety and regulations. He built quite a reputation as a champion for health care for the poor, but he also was the instigator of CHIP — the Children’s Health Insurance Program that provided health care for 8 million children, including more than 140,000 here in West Virginia.

He also called his relentless fight to protect the nation’s coal miners a crowning achievement.

Rockefeller certainly has started at the bottom and successfully worked his way to the top — coming to West Virginia as a volunteer with the VISTA national service program in 1964. Two years later he ran and captured a seat in the West Virginia Legislature and went on to win the office of Secretary of State following his experience in the House of Delegates.

The senator eyed the governor’s office in 1972, but was defeated. Not wishing to remain idle for four years, he became president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, but four years later Rockefeller began to climb the political ladder once again, winning the first of his two terms as governor in 1978.

It was late in his second term that he replaced the retiring Sen. Randolph. He will have spent 30 years in the U.S. Senate when he retires.

Rockefeller, in announcing he would not run in 2014, said that “public service demands and very much deserves nothing less than every single thing you have to bring to bear. And that’s what I have given it. I’ve been driven to make life better for the people here (in West Virginia).”

Rockefeller has always been on the side of coal. But with natural gas becoming more and more prominent in our country, he realizes that the coal companies are going after him.

“I can live with that,” he says, “because I know that I am fighting every day for coal miners.”

In a chastising speech last summer aimed at the coal industry, he criticized coal operators for using divisive scare tactics that he said wrongly blame the federal government, and particularly the Obama administration, for the challenges they now face.

As others have pointed out, Rockefeller comes from political bloodlines that few have ever known. After serving the people of West Virginia for 50 years, the 75-year-old Rockefeller certainly deserves the opportunity to devote time to his family that he proudly describes as being “incredible.”

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