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Tom Miller: Rockefeller's departure means potential changes in several offices

Jan. 20, 2013 @ 12:00 AM

When U. S. Sen. John D. (Jay) Rockefeller IV arrived in West Virginia nearly half a century ago, appointed by then U. S. Attorney Robert F. Kennedy in July 1964 to work with the President's Commission on Juvenile Delinquency and Youth Crime in the small community of Emmons, it's doubtful even he envisioned a lifetime of political service to the Mountain State.

Two years later he won his first election -- a two-year term in the House of Delegates from Kanawha County and his nearly half century of political service in and for West Virginia was under way. Earlier this month, he announced he will not run for another six-year term in the U.S. Senate in 2014, bringing an end to his political service to West Virginia when his current term expires in 2015.

Rockefeller's political legacy here began in 1966 when he was elected to a two-year term in the House of Delegates. His next stop was Secretary of State, elected to a four-year term in that office in 1968.

His one political defeat came in the 1972 election for governor when he lost to incumbent Republican Arch Moore. So he accepted the position of president of West Virginia Wesleyan College in Buckhannon, a position he held until he resigned in 1975 to run for governor of West Virginia again.

Rockefeller was elected to the first of two four-year terms as this state's chief executive in 1976 and then in 1984 he was elected to the first of five six-year terms as a U.S. Senator. U. S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, who has been serving in the U.S. House of Representatives for seven, two-year terms, announced recently she would be a candidate for the U.S. Senate in 2014.

Her announcement did not influence his decision, Rockefeller said. Indeed many people believe she had at least some hint of his plans to retire when she made her announcement that should effectively discourage any serious Republican opposition to her candidacy in the 2014 primary election.

Perhaps of even more significance is the fact the 2nd District seat in the House of Representatives that Capito has dominated as a Republican for more than a decade could now be in play for the Democrats to capture in the 2014 election. After all this is a state with a 2-1 majority of registered Democrat voters.

Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va., also has mentioned the possibility that he will forfeit his seat in the 1st Congressional District to challenge Capito in the GOP primary race for the Senate seat that Rockefeller is leaving. But he most likely will opt to run again for the House of Representatives because it seems unlikely he would be able to beat Capito in the primary.

However, U.S. Rep. Nick Jo Rahall, West Virginia's only Democrat member in the House of Representatives, also is said to be considering a run for the U. S. Senate seat next year now that Rockefeller is retiring. Once a staff assistant to the legendary late U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd, he is now in his 18th two-year term in Congress and would probably be the most likely one to beat Capito in the 2014 general election. But he may decide giving up his seniority in the House is not worth the risk.

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Even though a governor in West Virginia can only serve two successive terms, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin could make the case that he actually began his third term last Monday in ceremonies on the front steps of the State Capitol when he took the oath of office.

The first occasion came following the death of U.S. Sen. Robert C. Byrd and the appointment of then Gov. Joe Manchin to take Byrd's seat in Congress. As president of the state Senate, Tomblin was automatically elevated to the vacancy created in the governor's office and made his investiture address in November 2010. A year later, he won a special election in October of 2011 and gave his first inaugural address to begin the remainder of the four-year term begun in 2009 by Manchin.

Under the state constitution, Tomblin will not be able to run for governor again in 2016 even though he still will not have served two full four-year terms in that position like many governors before him -- most recently Sen. Rockefeller (1977-1985) and Republican Arch A. Moore Jr. (1969-1977).

Now he must prepare for his first State of the State speech to begin the 60-day 2013 legislative session on Feb. 13. The emphasis in his brief speech last Monday on the State Capitol steps suggests a major issue will be his plans for improving this state's public education system. He warned student achievement is "falling behind" other states but wary education lobbyists indicated they want to see specifics before endorsing his plans.

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The inauguration ceremony for Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin last week was the first time since 1997 that the event didn't fall on the same day as Martin Luther King Day, so it wasn't an official state holiday. So employees of the State Supreme Court and the Legislature showed up for work that morning as usual.

But hundreds of employees for the executive department were told by Secretary of Administration Ross Taylor to "work from home or some other alternative site" to free up more parking space at the Capitol for individuals attending the inaugural event. He told a newspaper reporter that it was not a state holiday so he advised the department heads to tell employees to be on call. And the reporter noted that lights were out in the two main office towers on the Capitol campus at 4 p.m.

Tom Miller is a retired state government reporter for The Herald-Dispatch. He is a regular contributor to The Herald-Dispatch opinion page.

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