CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Vice President Joe Biden says the influence of U.S. Senator Jay Rockefeller (D-WV) has been “profound” during his 50 years of public service in West Virginia, across the United States and around the world.
“This is a man of extraordinary character, a generous and decent man of enormous integrity and impeccable and incredible political courage matched only by his intellect,” Biden told the more than 1,400 people who attended Saturday’s Jefferson-Jackson Dinner at the Charleston Civic Center.
This year, the annual fundraising event for the state Democratic Party was dedicated to Rockefeller who is not seeking reelection to the U.S. Senate next year for the first time since 1984.
By the time he leaves office, Rockefeller will have spent half a century working for West Virginia, a place he called his “forever home.”
It was 1964 when a 27-year old Rockefeller first came to West Virginia as a VISTA volunteer assigned to Emmons in southern West Virginia.
He said, in many ways, he has never left that small community since then. “Every single day since my days in Emmons, I’ve never changed. I’ve always fought for the same things,” he said.
Rockefeller said one principle that he learned in Emmons has guided him through his political career that started in 1966 in the state House of Delegates and has taken him through roles as Secretary of State, President of West Virginia Wesleyan, Governor of West Virginia and, finally, U.S. Senator.
“It’s all about helping people and the tougher the job, the deeper the satisfaction,” said Rockefeller as he sat onstage at the Civic Center Saturday beside his wife, Sharon, and his daughter Valerie, one of the couple’s four children. The rest of the Rockefeller family was in the crowd.
Biden was a U.S. Senator from Delaware when Rockefeller first became a member of the U.S. Senate representing West Virginia, following in the steps of U.S. Senator Jennings Randolph (D-WV) and joining U.S. Senator Robert Byrd (D-WV).
The Vice President said, with Rockefeller’s family wealth, he really did not have to live a life of public service. “You’re overwhelming proof, Jay, that’s it’s not about the circumstances you come from, it’s about your soul. And, Jay Rockefeller, you’ve got soul,” said Biden to applause.
“There’s not a single man or woman in the Senate who does not trust or respect Jay Rockefeller, not one,” said Biden. He called Rockefeller “an inspiration to the President and to me,” pledged to continue to work with him over the next year and asked West Virginia voters to “give me another Rockefeller” during his 30-plus minute remarks.
During his own reflections, Rockefeller publicly endorsed Secretary of State Natalie Tennant, who is seeking the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2014, as his successor.
Rockefeller said he is proud of the work he has done in the Senate, citing improvements for coal miners, abused women, low income families and others. “I don’t want that work to be passed on to the wrong person. I want it to be passed on to the right person,” Rockefeller said before calling on those attending the JJ-Dinner to support Tennant.
Several of West Virginia’s leaders, including Tennant, thanked Rockefeller for his work, over the years, in recorded messages that were shown during the event. A tribute video also told the story of how a “tall guy from New York City” found, what he called, his “life’s passion” in the Mountain State.
“You’ve welcomed us. You looked us over. You found us okay and you took us into yourselves and really, by virtue of what you have done for us, you have given me, at least, and Sharon, a remarkable and wonderful life,” said Rockefeller.
The sold out Jefferson-Jackson Dinner was postponed from its original scheduled date in October. At that time, state Democratic Party leaders cited the partial federal government shutdown.