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Democrat

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D)

Jay Rockefeller Contact
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Email: n/a
DC Contact Information

Phone: 202-224-6472

Address: 531 HSOB, DC 20510

Jay Rockefeller Biography
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  • Elected: 1984, term expires 2014, 5th term.
  • State: West Virginia
  • Born: Jun. 18, 1937, New York, NY
  • Home: Charleston
  • Education:

    Harvard U., B.A. 1961, Intl. Christian U., Tokyo, Japan, 1957-60

  • Professional Career:

    Natl. Advisory Cncl., Peace Corps, 1961; Asst., Peace Corps Dir. Sargent Shriver, 1962–63; VISTA worker, 1964–66; Pres., WV Wesleyan Col., 1973–76.

  • Political Career:

    WV House, 1966–68; WV secy. of state, 1968–72; WV gov., 1976–84.

  • Religion:

    Presbyterian

  • Family: Married (Sharon); 4 children

Democrat Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia’s senior senator, was elected in 1984. He chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and combines an abiding interest in modernizing health care and technology with an old-fashioned devotion to guarding his state’s coal industry. He announced in January 2013 that he would not seek a sixth term, touching off a heated Republican effort to capture his seat in 2014. Read More

Democrat Jay Rockefeller, West Virginia’s senior senator, was elected in 1984. He chairs the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee and combines an abiding interest in modernizing health care and technology with an old-fashioned devotion to guarding his state’s coal industry. He announced in January 2013 that he would not seek a sixth term, touching off a heated Republican effort to capture his seat in 2014.

Rockefeller’s full name, John D. Rockefeller IV, has a familiar ring to it. His great-grandfather was an oil billionaire and America’s richest man, and his grandfather as the heir 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. 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—West Virginia newspapers refer to him in headlines as “Jay”—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, they helped me much more,” he has reminisced. “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 more than $102 million in 2011—and was elected governor in 1976 and reelected 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.

Rockefeller has been a consistent Democratic vote. He began his career inclined toward free trade because of his experience in East Asia, but he is a strong supporter of organized labor who regularly earns 100% on the AFL-CIO’s annual legislative scorecard. He is sensitive at times to the cultural conservatism of his state, supporting a 2006 constitutional flag desecration amendment and another proposed amendment to allow voluntary prayer in schools. Though he has done his share to shape the Democratic message as well as to attack Republican policies, he is known in the Senate for his civility. He laments the extreme polarization of politics, especially as practiced by Republican-leaning Fox News and the liberal MSNBC. “There’s a little bug inside of me which wants the (Federal Communications Commission) to say to Fox and to MSNBC, ‘Out. Off. End. Goodbye,’” he said at a November 2010 hearing.

As Commerce Committee chairman, Rockefeller has championed consumers’ rights. He helped secure $7.2 billion in economic stimulus money to upgrade broadband infrastructure. He held hearings on electronic commerce practices that pass on customers’ information to other companies and introduced legislation in 2010 to prohibit some Internet companies’ misleading sales practices. In 2011 and 2013, he sponsored a bill to give consumers the ability to block companies from tracking their online activity, a measure that privacy advocates hailed.

On other Commerce issues, Rockefeller in 2012 helped steer into law a bill reauthorizing the Federal Aviation Administration aimed at modernizing the nation’s air transportation system. But he was unsuccessful in getting a cybersecurity bill passed that year to implement a system of voluntary security standards for certain critical businesses like those that control electrical grids or water-treatment plants. Republicans and their allies, led by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the government had no right to regulate private businesses.

Rockefeller played a part in shaping the Democrats’ health care overhaul of 2010, though not as central a role as he would have liked. As chairman of the Finance Committee’s health subcommittee, he introduced his own bill in July 2009 creating an optional public health insurance plan to compete with private insurers. He sharply criticized the parallel efforts of the more centrist Finance Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Baucus ended up excluding Rockefeller from the bipartisan “Gang of Six” that fruitlessly met through the summer of 2009 trying to craft a deal. The Finance Committee rejected Rockefeller’s proposal in September.

Health care has long been a passion of Rockefeller’s. He is 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 has sought 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. After he decided against it, 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 worked for incremental changes. 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, as well as 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 also was at the forefront of Democratic efforts to expand the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

Rockefeller’s work on health care earned him deep admiration from liberals. But they have been less enthralled with his efforts to protect West Virginia’s coal industry from legislation to curb global warming. In 2003, he supported cap-and-trade legislation to allow energy efficient companies to trade credits to larger greenhouse gas emitters as a way to reduce overall levels of carbon dioxide emissions. But after Democrats took control of the Senate and sought to craft a similar bill, Rockefeller was reluctant to back it. Then, in 2010, he pushed legislation to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas emissions from some sources. But in June 2012, he shocked West Virginians by opposing a GOP attempt to overturn an EPA mercury emissions rule after giving a lofty speech castigating the industry. “The reality is that many who run the coal industry today would rather attack false enemies and deny real problems than find solutions,” he said. The speech was widely interpreted as an early signal that he wouldn’t seek reelection.

Steel has been another longtime preoccupation for Rockefeller. 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. He got a tax credit into law in 2008 providing an incentive for companies to recycle hazardous byproducts from steelmaking.

During the Bush administration, Rockefeller was extremely active on the Intelligence Committee. Some Democrats criticized him in 2003 for failing to counter Republican Chairman Pat Roberts’ opposition to a far-ranging investigation of intelligence before the Sept. 11 attacks. But the bipartisan working relationship between the two was not to last. In December 2005, The New York Times revealed that the National Security Agency conducted surveillance of communications between terrorist suspects abroad and people in the United States and that Rockefeller had been informed of the program several years before. Rockefeller charged that Bush administration officials were misstating the facts and that they never offered him the opportunity to approve or disapprove of the program. Rockefeller protested vigorously that month when 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. Rockefeller agreed to accept Bond’s suggestions that it investigate shortcomings in human intelligence and radical Islamist ideology. In October 2007, Rockefeller 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. After stepping down as chairman, Rockefeller told The Charleston Gazette in April 2011 that his earlier support for the Iraq war was “one of the worst votes in my life” and that U.S. troops should leave the country that year. He also expressed serious misgivings about military operations in Afghanistan and Libya.

When he announced his resignation, Rockefeller was 75 and told The Associated Press, “I’ve gotten way out of whack in terms of the time I should spend with my wife and my children and my grandchildren.” He previously had been in strong shape politically—strong enough that since 1984, he had not self-financed any of his campaigns and still had been reelected by handsome margins. But his changing stance on coal and West Virginia’s growing conservative bent likely would have caused him headaches in 2014. Republican Rep. Shelley Moore Capito announced three weeks after the November 2012 election that she would run for his seat, and a subsequent poll showed her with a small lead in a head-to-head matchup with Rockefeller.

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Jay Rockefeller Election Results
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2008 General
Jay Rockefeller (D)
Votes: 447,560
Percent: 63.73%
Spent: $5,972,208
Jay Wolfe
Votes: 254,629
Percent: 36.26%
Spent: $123,862
2008 Primary
Jay Rockefeller (D)
Votes: 271,425
Percent: 77.26%
Sheirl Fletcher
Votes: 50,173
Percent: 14.28%
Billy Hendricks
Votes: 29,707
Percent: 8.46%
Prior Winning Percentages
2002 (63%), 1996 (77%), 1990 (68%), 1984 (52%); Governor: 1980 (54%), 1976 (66%)
Jay Rockefeller Votes and Bills
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National Journal’s rating system is an objective method of analyzing voting. The liberal score means that the lawmaker’s votes were more liberal than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The conservative score means his votes were more conservative than that percentage of his colleagues’ votes. The composite score is an average of a lawmaker’s six issue-based scores. See all NJ Voting

More Liberal
More Conservative
2013 2012 2011
Economic 73 (L) : 26 (C) 76 (L) : 22 (C) 75 (L) : 22 (C)
Social 73 (L) : - (C) 64 (L) : - (C) 52 (L) : - (C)
Foreign 71 (L) : - (C) 81 (L) : 18 (C) 92 (L) : - (C)
Composite 81.8 (L) : 18.2 (C) 80.2 (L) : 19.8 (C) 82.8 (L) : 17.2 (C)
Interest Group Ratings

The vote ratings by 10 special interest groups provide insight into a lawmaker’s general ideology and the degree to which he or she agrees with the group’s point of view. Two organizations provide just one combined rating for 2011 and 2012, the two sessions of the 112th Congress. They are the ACLU and the ITIC. About the interest groups.

20112012
FRC280
LCV100100
CFG20
ITIC-50
NTU87
20112012
COC40-
ACLU-75
ACU04
ADA10090
AFSCME100-
Key Senate Votes

The key votes show how a member of Congress voted on the major bills of the year. N indicates a "no" vote; Y a "yes" vote. If a member voted "present" or was absent, the bill caption is not shown. For a complete description of the bills included in key votes, see the Almanac's Guide to Usage.

    • End fiscal cliff
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Block faith exemptions
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve gas pipeline
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2012
    • Approve farm bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Let cyber bill proceed
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2012
    • Raise debt limit
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Pass balanced budget amendment
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Stop EPA climate regulations
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Proceed to Cordray vote
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Require talking filibuster
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2011
    • Limit Fannie/Freddie
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2011
    • Regulate financial firms
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Pass tax cuts for some
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Legalize immigrants' kids
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Ratify New START
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Confirm Elena Kagan
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Stop EPA climate regs
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Repeal don't ask, tell
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2010
    • Overturn Ledbetter
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Block release of TARP funds
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass $787 billion stimulus
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Repeal DC gun laws
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Confirm Sonia Sotomayor
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass health care bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Bar budget rules for climate bill
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Pass 2010 budget resolution
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Let judges adjust mortgages
    • Vote:
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow FDA to regulate tobacco
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Protect gays from hate crimes
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Cut F-22 funds
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Label North Korea terrorist state
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2009
    • Build Guantanamo replacement
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Allow federal funds for abortion
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2009
    • Cap greenhouse gases
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Bail out financial markets
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Increase missile defense $
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2008
    • Overhaul FISA
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2008
    • Raise CAFE standards
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Expand SCHIP
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Make English official language
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Path to citizenship
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Fetus is unborn child
    • Vote: N
    • Year: 2007
    • Prosecute hate crimes
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Withdraw troops 3/08
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
    • Iran guard is terrorist group
    • Vote: Y
    • Year: 2007
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The Almanac is a members-only database of searchable profiles compiled and adapted from the Almanac of American Politics. Comprehensive online profiles include biographical and political summaries of elected officials, campaign expenditures, voting records, interest-group ratings, and congressional staff look-ups. In-depth overviews of each state and house district are included as well, along with demographic data, analysis of voting trends, and political histories.
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