Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D)
Elected: 1984, term expires 2014, 5th term.
Born: June 18, 1937, New York, NY .
Education: Harvard U., B.A. 1961, Intl. Christian U., Tokyo, Japan, 1957-60.
Family: Married (Sharon); 4 children.
Elected office: WV House of Delegates, 1966–68; WV secy. of state, 1968–72; WV gov., 1976–84.
Professional Career: Natl. Advisory Cncl., Peace Corps, 1961; Asst., Peace Corps Dir. Sargent Shriver, 1962–63; VISTA worker, 1964–66; Pres., WV Wesleyan Col., 1973–75.
Jay Rockefeller is a Democrat and junior senator from West Virginia. After the 2008 election, Rockefeller gave up the chairmanship of the Senate Intelligence Committee to take the gavel of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
|Jay Rockefeller (D)||447,560||(64%)||($4,820,379)|
|Jay Wolfe (R)||254,629||(36%)||($123,720)|
|Jay Rockefeller (D)||271,425||(77%)|
|Sheirl Fletcher (D)||50,173||(14%)|
|Billy Hendricks (D)||29,707||(8%)|
Prior Winning Percentages: 2002 (63%), 1996 (77%), 1990 (68%), 1984 (52%)
Rockefeller’s full name, John D. Rockefeller IV, has a familiar ring to those who remember his great-grandfather as the oil billionaire who was America’s richest man, and his grandfather as the heir who had more than enough money to build New York’s Rockefeller Center, restore Colonial Williamsburg, and found the Museum of Modern Art during the Depression of the 1930s. Jay Rockefeller’s father and uncles were men of impressive achievement in different fields. Father John D. Rockefeller III was the head of the family’s philanthropic efforts and founder of the Asia Society. Uncle David Rockefeller was the head of Chase Manhattan Bank. Two uncles became governors—Nelson, governor of New York for 15 years and a man of great building projects and fitful presidential ambitions; and Winthrop, who moved to impoverished and out-of-the-way Arkansas and served four years as a reform governor when the state needed it most. At various points in his life, Jay Rockefeller has followed the example of each, with emphases and achievements of his own.
John D. Rockefeller IV grew up in New York, graduated from Harvard, and lived and studied in Japan for three years (evidence of his father’s Asiaphilia). He worked for a year in Washington D.C. running the early Peace Corps program in the Philippines. Then, like so many of the elite of those years, he turned his attention from abroad to home, and in 1964 went to the impoverished hill country of West Virginia to work as a VISTA volunteer in Emmons on the Big Coal River. “Although I went to Emmons to help that community,” he has reminisced. “They helped me much more. My experience in Emmons set the course for the rest of my life.” He moved on, more quickly than his uncles Nelson and Winthrop, to electoral politics. He was elected to the state House of Delegates from Kanawha County in 1966 and as West Virginia secretary of state in 1968. Rockefeller then had the chastening experience of losing a 1972 race for governor to Republican Arch Moore. He served three years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, and became more practical, dropping his opposition to strip mining. He was not shy about spending his own millions—his net worth was estimated at $200 million in 2006—and was elected governor in 1976 and re-elected in 1980. In 1984, he ran for the U.S. Senate and beat Republican businessman John Raese by just 52%-48% after spending $12 million.
In his first years in the Senate, Rockefeller deferred to fellow West Virginia Democrat Robert Byrd and compiled a liberal voting record, somewhat inclined toward free trade because of his experience in East Asia. He began to concentrate on health care. With a seat on the Finance Committee, he got a place on the Pepper Commission on long-term health care. As chairman, he got majorities on the commission to back long-term care for all Americans regardless of age and universal medical insurance coverage. But getting others to agree was harder. He was motivated in part by anger at his mother’s treatment during a long terminal illness—an experience that would be much worse for people of ordinary incomes, he thought—and he worked to increase the number of general practitioners, especially in states like West Virginia and Arkansas. As he was working on health issues, Rockefeller in 1991 gave serious consideration to running for president. He was 54, an age at which his uncle, Nelson, was about to make his second attempt at running, and when he had developed expertise on an issue that seemed likely to be a major domestic priority.
After he decided against running, he warmly endorsed Democrat Bill Clinton and applauded his emphasis on health care. When the Clinton health care bill crashed and burned in September 1994, Rockefeller still wanted system-wide health care reform but recognized that it could not pass, so he worked for incremental changes. He opposed the Republicans’ Medicare prescription drug bill in 2003 and later called it a “national disaster.” One of his biggest legislative achievements was a 1992 law, passed over furious opposition from Western coal states, that forced union and non-union coal companies and “reach-back” companies that had gone out of the coal business to pay for the exploding cost of the United Mine Workers’ health care trust funds; he has worked ever since to continue funding of this program for retired miners and their widows. In 2007, as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee’s subcommittee on health, he was at the fore of Democratic efforts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.
Steel has been a preoccupation of Rockefeller for a long time. He helped Weirton Steel become employee-owned in 1984. In the late 1990s, he called for aid to steel makers in the face of what he regarded as a flood of subsidized steel imports, arguing that workers and companies that have “played by the book” should get government help to allow them to continue in their jobs and their homes. In 2002, he called for 40% tariffs for four years on steel imports. The Bush administration in 2002 imposed a 24% tariff in the second year and 18% in the third. Rockefeller complained loudly when the administration made exceptions and then dropped the quotas.
In 2003, Rockefeller became vice chairman of the Intelligence Committee. That July, he argued that National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, and not just Central Intelligence Agency Director George Tenet, should be blamed for the “16 words” about British intelligence in Africa in President George W. Bush’s 2003 State of the Union address. But at the same time, he was criticized by some Democrats for not being a partisan “team player” and for not countering Republican Chairman Pat Roberts’ opposition to a far-ranging investigation of intelligence before the September 11 attacks and of intelligence on Iraq. In June 2003, when Democratic Sen. John Kerry of Massachusetts said Bush had “lied” about intelligence, Rockefeller said, “The senator is running for president. And I think that Pat Roberts and I make a distinction between people who are running for president and therefore need to capture attention and what we on the Intelligence Committee have to do.” Roberts decided to hold hearings and in October 2003, he agreed with Rockefeller to include witnesses from the State and Defense departments as well as from the CIA. But the bipartisan working relationship between the two was not to last.
On November 4, a memo by Democratic committee staffers became public; it recommended that Democrats “pull the majority along” in extracting damaging disclosures from officials and then “pull the trigger” in 2004 to use the material to discredit Bush. Rockefeller said he never passed the memo along but declined to apologize for it, and approached Roberts with a letter promising not to let partisan motives affect the hearings. Roberts was not mollified. On November 12, he cancelled the committee’s weekly assessment meeting and the next day wrote in The Washington Post, “The Democrats planned to undermine the integrity of the committee by conducting a partisan attack, which threatens to destroy the credibility of an institution that has served the U.S. Senate and the nation well for nearly 30 years. I oppose them, and I make no apologies.” Rockefeller responded, “One has to confront the very real possibility that this whole war was predetermined, so that the intelligence had to fit with the policymaking plans. So the Republicans just pounce on this little, pathetic stolen memo as the perfect opportunity to cover up whether there was White House manipulation of intelligence or whether there was [a] predetermined plan for war.” In March 2004, Rockefeller, who had voted for the Iraq war resolution, said, “If I had known then what I know now, I would have voted against it. ...The decision got made before there was a whole bunch of intelligence. I think the intelligence was shaped. And I think the interpretation of the intelligence was shaped.”
In December 2005, after The New York Times revealed National Security Agency surveillance of communications between terrorist suspects abroad and persons in the United States, and that Rockefeller had been informed of the program several years before, Rockefeller charged that administration officials were misstating the facts and that they never offered him the opportunity to approve or disapprove of the program. In February 2006, he suggested that the Times’ story resulted from leaks by administration officials, though they had tried to persuade the Times not to publish the story. Rockefeller protested vigorously that month when Chairman Roberts adjourned a committee meeting after Democrats demanded an inquiry into the NSA surveillance program.
After Democrats won majority control of the Senate, Rockefeller in 2007 ascended to the chairmanship of Intelligence. Roberts rotated off the committee and the new vice chairman was Republican Christopher (Kit) Bond of Missouri. He said that he and Bond would pursue a more bipartisan course, and that staffers would be shared without a partisan divide. He proposed an agency-by-agency review of the law centralizing control in the Director of National Intelligence. Closed hearings in January 2007 focused on recommendations made by the Iraq Study Group. Rockefeller agreed to accept Bond’s suggestions that it investigate shortcomings in human intelligence and radical Islamist ideology. He called for a separate warrant on every wiretap of a person in the United States and questioned whether the CIA should be running a secret prison network. In October 2007, he produced a compromise on the issue of immunity for telecommunications companies who cooperated in the government’s secret surveillance of people in the United States. It provided that the companies be able to assert as a defense that they were told by the administration that the surveillance was legal.
On other issues, Rockefeller co-sponsored, with Byrd and Democratic Rep. Nick Rahall of West Virginia, a constitutional amendment to allow voluntary prayer in schools. He and Republican Mike DeWine of Ohio passed a bill in 2006 requiring labels on new cars showing their crash-worthiness. He and Mississippi Republican Trent Lott backed a $25 surcharge on airline tickets and business aircraft flights to finance an updated air traffic control system in 2007. He also co-sponsored a bill to require cell phone companies to disclose charges more clearly and to eliminate or reduce early termination fees.
Rockefeller has been in strong shape politically—strong enough that since 1984 he has not self-financed any of his campaigns and has still been re-elected by handsome margins. In 2008, he ran for a fifth term. That year, he got some negative attention with comments about presidential candidate John McCain’s activities in the Vietnam War. He charged that McCain had sent laser-guided missiles down on Vietnam from 35,000 feet, and asserted: “He was long gone when they hit. What happened when they get to the ground? He doesn’t know. That’s unkind, because that’s fighting for your nation and that’s honorable. But you have to care about the lives of people. McCain never got into those issues.” But McCain piloted fighters, not bombers, and Rockefeller quickly admitted, “I made an inaccurate and wrong analogy, and I have extended my sincere apology to him.” None of this caused Rockefeller any problems in November. He spent $5.9 million to his Republican opponent’s $123,000 and won 64%-36%, carrying 52 of 55 counties.