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West Virginia losing seniority in Congress with planned retirement of Sen. Rockefeller

January 11, 2013|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD | matthewu@herald-mail.com
  • U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller
File photo

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — The Rockefeller name has opened doors and carried considerable influence in West Virginia politics for years, Eastern Panhandle leaders said Friday.

With Sen. Jay Rockefeller’s announcement Friday that he will leave the U.S. Senate in 2014, that door is about to close.

“It is dark day,” said State Sen. Herb Snyder, D-Jefferson/Berkeley. “I’m disappointed in that once again West Virginia is losing seniority in Congress.”

“Seniority is what the whole federal government in Washington, D.C., floats on.”

Snyder noted the loss in 2010 of the late Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., who served for more than 50 years in the Senate and the loss of longtime Rep. Alan Mollohan in the 2010. Mollohan had served in Congress for 28 years and like Byrd, held a powerful Appropriations Committee position.

“It takes decades to build up that seniority,” Snyder said.

Snyder said he was alerted about 11 p.m. Thursday that an announcement by Rockefeller could be imminent, but was not surprised.

The senator’s health problems, including his back trouble, were no secret, Snyder said.

Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport Authority chairman Richard “Rick” Wachtel said he wasn’t surprised by the senator’s announcement, either.

“I think he’s been a tremendous asset,” said Wachtel, who described Rockefeller as a “great benefactor” to the Eastern West Virginia Regional Airport.

The John D. Rockefeller IV Science & Technology Center, the airport’s 225-acre industrial park that bear’s the senator’s name, would not exist had it not been for him, Wachtel said. 

“I can only say great things about Sen. Rockefeller,” Wachtel said.

On several occasions, Rockefeller has helped the airport resolve issues with the Federal Aviation Administration, Wachtel said.

He also credited Rockefeller for helping land aircraft manufacturing companies Sino-Swearingen and Tiger Aircraft to the industrial park.

Neither company remains in business there, but Wachtel said the economic downturn and internal corporate issues are to blame for their departure.

“It’s far, far from his fault that they’re no longer here,” Wachtel said.

Wachtel said Rockefeller has worked “extremely hard” on job creation issues and believes the senator is very concerned about the state’s welfare.

Finding a Democratic candidate with as much notoriety as Rockefeller to run for the senior senator’s seat might be difficult, Snyder said.

“Where’s Gaston Caperton when you need him,” Snyder said of the former governor. “I think he’d make a phenomenal candidate.”

Snyder acknowledged Rep. Shelley Moore Capito’s announcement in November to run for Senate in 2014, but noted the 2nd Congressional District Republican also would be giving up the seniority she now has in the House. Capito has represented the Eastern Panhandle in Congress since was first elected in 2000.

“Sen. Rockefeller has served our state with distinction for over 40 years. Jay has always been a true gentlemen and hardworking statesmen while working hard on the challenges that face our state and country,” Capito said in a statement released Friday afternoon.

“While we disagree on many policy issues, the No. 1 concern for both of us has always been the welfare of West Virginians. I consider him a personal friend and thank him for his service.”

Wachtel said Rockefeller, who was always responsive to his phone calls, wielded considerable influence and could get an audience much faster than most people.

“The name Rockefeller is known worldwide and opens doors,” Wachtel said.

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