Rockfeller: W.Va. losing moderate voice on coal issues

January 11, 2013 by Ken Ward Jr.

Larry Messina over at The Associated Press has the big news:

U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller will not seek a sixth term representing West Virginia.

The 75-year-old Democrat has recently sparred with the state’s mining industry over the future of coal, and he has supported President Barack Obama, who is deeply unpopular in West Virginia.

Rockefeller tells The Associated Press that public service has dominated his life for a half-century. He said he plans to retire in 2014 to devote more time to his family and vowed to remain a West Virginian.

Friday’s announcement is sure to set off a scramble for the seat. Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito has already said she will seek it in 2014.

Rockefeller arrived in the state as an anti-poverty worker in 1964. His subsequent political career has also included two terms as governor.

This is obviously a huge blow for any efforts to have more reasoned and forward-thinking discussion of coal-mining issues in West Virginia.

While Sen. Rockefeller’s focus hasn’t always been exactly right when it comes to describing coal’s current situation and future prospects (see here, here, here , here and here), he has been a strong voice for important things like protecting miners’ health care and pensions, and he’s certainly taken a generally more measured tone than some other state political leaders we could mention.

But his speech last year on the Senate floor was a major step toward West Virginia taking its collective head out of the sand and trying to grapple with what’s ahead for our coalfield communities. Here’s the video:


Can anyone quickly name a Democrat who seems likely to be able to beat Rep. Shelley Moore Capito for Sen. Rockefeller’s seat — let alone name a Democrat who could mount a serious campaign who also has the courage to do so while speaking the truth about the challenges facing our coal industry and coalfield communities?

The 2014 election is a long, long way away — an eternity in political time — and a lot could happen before then. But we seem destined to face continued “war on coal” rhetoric from Rep. Capito, probably without any counter-balance from any of our elected officials or major political figures. So it seems even more unlikely than before that we can do what Sen. Rockefeller suggested:

Instead of finger pointing, we should commit ourselves to a smart action plan that will help with job transition opportunities, sparking new manufacturing and exploring the next generation of technology.

None of this is impossible. Solving big challenges with American ingenuity is what we do. West Virginia knows energy and West Virginia doesn’t shrink from challenge. We have the chance here to not just grudgingly accept the future – but to boldly embrace it.

6 Responses to “Rockfeller: W.Va. losing moderate voice on coal issues”

  1. Jolene says:

    Not that Senator Rockefeller has always been a favorite of mine, but when he spoke intelligently about coal, I felt it was the only sane voice in WV politics. I have gotten “so sick” of the “war on coal” and it will surely get worse with Capito running for Jay’s seat. Most of our WV politicians are blinded by the light of generous money donations from coal companies and want to chime in about the war on coal. Can intelligent individuals not see what has happened to WV over the years – although coal does provide good paying jobs for awhile – the coal company executives do not care about the workers. Coal companies have raped WV for years, then left WV and its citizens to “raise the baby” – poverty, bad health, etc. Coal is like everything else, you can’t have a never ending supply – you can’t eat your cake and still have it all left on the plate. Coal WILL be gone sometime, and we MUST be looking into the future instead of sitting still.

  2. edward says:

    Jay will be sorely missed. For the future of our State we must hope that
    someone who has the big picture, a vision for what our great State COULD be, and is not totally a hand maiden of the coal industry will come forward and soon.

  3. David says:

    Yeah, coal will be gone someday, so let’s do what we can to make it a bad option now and kill it…that is the mindset of Ken Ward and the anti-coal factions. How about a new mindset where solutions and problems don’t start from the top, but rather from the beautiful entrepreneurial minds of our workers and business leaders? Get out of the way, Ken Ward, Jr., and the anti-business naysayers, and let coal finish itself out, while other solutions are simultaneously explored without subsidizing or panhandling from government. Government involvement = corruption.

  4. Dennis Sparks says:

    Thank you for posting the articles and thoughts on Senator Rockefeller as he has announced his retirement from the Senate. He and I through the State Council of Churches have worked together on many issues. I hope he will utilize these last days in office to further promote the need for a change on policy regarding coal’s future and jobs for the coal miners.

  5. Glenn Parker says:

    Senator Rockefeller was no friend for coal, was no friend for conservative government, was no friend for a balanced budget and no friend for individual freedom. He was a friend for liberal issues, deficit spending and President Obama.
    It is his type of thinking that has put this country in trouble economically and morally.
    He will not be missed.

  6. blue canary says:

    David, you do realize that the coal industry is heavily, heavily subsidized, right? Also, it’s unfortunate that coal doesn’t seem to be able to “play itself out” while simultaneously making room for new businesses, at least not among our politicians. If our legislators spent half as much time supporting entrepreneurs with smart policies and job training as they did on pointless resolutions bashing the EPA, maybe we’d get somewhere. But scoring political points generates more in campaign donations than actually supporting a new economy in the coalfields.

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