Sen. Jay Rockefeller, D-W.Va., said he wants to spend more time with his family.
That's one reason why the five-term Senator and former governor won't seek re-election in 2014. Rockefeller made the announcement official at a Jan. 11 news conference in Charleston.
"I've decided that 2014 will be the right moment for me to find new ways to figure for the causes I believe in and spend more time with my incredible family," Rockefeller said.
"It is not a political decision and it has not been easy," he said. "This is a personal decision. This is not a political decision."
Rockefeller said he would continue his commitment to the people of West Virginia, even beyond the end of his term.
"For the next two years in the Senate, and well beyond, I will continue working tirelessly on behalf of all West Virginians," he said. "Championing those most in need has been my life's calling, and I will never stop fighting to make a difference for the people who mean so much to me."
Rockefeller first came to West Virginia in the 1960s, after graduating from Harvard University in 1961 with a B.A. in Far Eastern languages and history. In 1964, he came to the community of Demons, located on the Kanawha/Boone county line, as a VISTA volunteer. Just two years later, he began his political career in the House of Delegates. Four years later, he was elected secretary of state. From there he ran for governor against Arch Moore, who was seeking a second term. Rockefeller lost that election and spent part of the next four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College.
He ran for governor again and won in 1976. He was re-elected in 1980, and when that term was near its end he ran for U.S. Senate to replace the retiring Jennings Randolph. He won that election against John Raese and has been re-elected every six years since.
Rockefeller has been West Virginia's most visible advocate for attracting foreign investment. He is credited with working a decade or more to attract the Toyota engine and transmission plant to the Putnam County community of Buffalo. His dealings with Japan go back to his undergraduate days when he lived and studied in Japan. At one Toyota expansion ceremony, Rockefeller recited a haiku he had written in Japanese.
"I worked for a decade to bring Toyota to West Virginia. I never stopped asking for more," Rockefeller said at the announcement.
Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin applauded Rockefeller's commitment to bringing new jobs to the state, as well as being a champion for health care and better working conditions for the state's coal miners.
He issued the following statement Friday afternoon:
"Throughout his years in public service, Sen. Rockefeller has championed many efforts for the people of West Virginia.
"As an original sponsor of The Children's Health Insurance Program, he made it possible for more than 143,000 of West Virginia's youngest citizens to receive the quality health care they deserve.
"Sen. Rockefeller also has maintained a legacy of improving mine safety by putting the safety and security of our miners first. Following the mining tragedies of Sago and Aracoma, he spearheaded an effort resulting in some of the most sweeping federal mine safety changes in a generation, including longer-lasting self-rescuers, quicker incident notification, and stricter fines.
"Thousands of military veterans now have access to benefits, a state nursing home, and home health care because Sen. Rockefeller led the charge on these and many other important veterans' issues including the establishment of our state's veterans cemetery, the Donel C. Kinnard Memorial State Veterans Cemetery in Institute, W.Va."
Since 1967, Rockefeller has been married to Sharon Percy Rockefeller, with whom he has four children: John, Valerie, Charles, and Justin. Jay and Sharon are also grandparents of four granddaughters and two grandsons.
U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., who was elected to Congress the same year Rockefeller was elected governor, issued the following statement Friday morning:
"I still remember Jay's first inaugural as governor. He told us, ‘My name is Rockefeller, but that will not pay our bills.' He gave us more than his family name. He pledged his heart, mind and strength to us that day. For almost half a century, Senator Rockefeller's service to his state and its families has never wavered from that commitment.
"We have fought many battles together, miners safety, healthcare, countless economic development initiatives and road projects. Through it all, Jay has been tireless in his work and his dedication never as much as flickered.
"When it comes to serving the good people of West Virginia, Jay Rockefeller's true fortune lies in his abiding compassion and heart of gold. His departure from the United States Senate will leave a large hole in our own hearts. As for me, I will mourn the day Jay leaves the Senate.
"Yet, we cannot deny this still young man his due. Sharon and Jay deserve a break in a couple of years, but the final chapter in their productive partnership is far from finished. They will always be our family friends."
Diane Luensmann, a spokeswoman for Rahall, said the long-time Congressman from southern West Virginia is considering a run for the Senate in 2014.
Before the official announcement, West Virginia Republican Party Chairman Conrad Lucas released this statement:
"Today is the next step in West Virginia's conservative future. This 2014 campaign for U.S. Senate here will mean a clear choice for voters. Will folks support a Republican who will fight for our coal jobs and protect us from Washington, D.C.? Absolutely.
Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., chairman of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, called Rockefeller a dedicated public servant and said his announcement opens the door for the next generation of Democrats to serve in the U.S. Senate.
"For more than a generation, Sen. Rockefeller has been a dedicated public servant, a brilliant legislator, and a loyal colleague in the US Senate," he said in a news release. "While we will greatly miss him in our caucus, I am confident we can elect an independent-minded Democrat to his seat next November. Democrats maintain nearly a two-to-one voter registration advantage over Republicans in West Virginia, and I know there are a number of leaders there who will consider taking this next step to serve their state."
Anne Barth, president of TechConnect, thanked Rockefeller for his service. She issued the following statement Friday afternoon:
"TechConnect West Virginia would like to thank Senator Jay Rockefeller for the tremendous service and leadership he has provided West Virginia over nearly five decades. He has been an outstanding public servant – as a Vista volunteer in Emmons, in the House of Delegates, as Secretary of State, as Governor, and as our United States Senator. He continues to be a tireless advocate for advancing the state and its people.
Senator Rockefeller also has been responsible for developing many initiatives and Federal programs that are spurring innovation and opportunity for our businesses, communities and citizens.
TechConnect West Virginia looks forward to continuing to work with Senator Rockefeller over the next two years as we work to turn innovation into enterprise."
West Virginia University President Jim Clements also issued a statement Friday:
"WVU has a strong relationship with Senator Rockefeller, one that affirms every aspect of our mission, from teaching and research to outreach and service.
Rockefeller's retirement will create a void in the Senate that West Virginia has not seen in generations. Randolph, Robert C. Byrd and Rockefeller all accumulated the clout that comes with seniority. Following Rockefeller's departure, West Virginia will have two senators with less than four years of service.