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.