This week, it was the Democratic Party’s turn to raise money, but also pay tribute to a man who has served the state for 50 years.
“Your overwhelming proof, Jay, that it’s not about the circumstances you come from, it’s about soul. And Jay Rockefeller, you’ve got soul.”
Vice President Joe Biden traveled to Charleston to honor Senator Jay Rockefeller at the annual Jefferson-Jackson fundraising dinner.
Focused more on the long-time politician’s accomplishments than politics, Biden spoke of the years of service Rockefeller has given to the state, likening him to the ranks of former Senators Robert C. Byrd and Jennings Randolph, both men the Vice President knew personally during his seven terms in the U.S. Senate.
“As different as their backgrounds and personalities, these three great men had a common thread that runs through all of them and I got to witness it up close and personal,” he said Saturday night in a ballroom at the Charleston Civic Center. “They’re all extremely bright, patriotic men who have an incredible sense of decency and a concern most of all for the struggles of ordinary people. That was the driving force of their devotion to their job.”
Throughout the evening, the Vice President, Senator Joe Manchin, Governor Earl Ray Tomblin and other state Democratic leaders recounted the battles Rockefeller took on for the people of West Virginia.
An outsider from one of the richest families in the nation, Rockefeller moved to the state in the early 1960s as a VISTA volunteer, spending time in the small southern West Virginia town of Emmons located in Boone County.
“I learned that public service is what I wanted to do because if you love people who are constantly trying to push a rock uphill with life sort of stack against them, but they don’t quaver,” Rockefeller said. “They just go ahead.”
“In effect, I was reborn, in a secular sense, in Emmons because of the people. They told me without telling me what I needed to do and who I was and that I was okay.”
Biden said from his years of friendship with the Senator, he could tell Rockefeller took that time to heart, eventually using the experience to motivate him as he served the state in the House of Delegates and during his eight years as governor.
“I’d already been in the Senate a long time when Governor Rockefeller ran for the United States Senate, but I can remember when he ran for governor because I remember what they said about him,” Biden recounted.
“This is this sycon of a wealthy family. He’s just form shopping. He’s just down here trying to find a safe Democratic seat and this is all he’s doing. He doesn’t give a darn. He’s an opportunist. Remember the phrase he has nothing in common with us? He has nothing in common with us. They didn’t know you, Jay.”
“You came to give, but you found out the people of West Virginia they stole. They stole your heart,” the Vice President said.
Rockefeller was praised for his work on the Children’s Health Insurance Program, known commonly as CHIP, the 1992 Coal Act which established a health benefits fund for coal miners, and his work as Chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee during the war in Iraq.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, and I’m sure none of you know any of this because Jay can’t come home and talk about this stuff and I can only talk about it in generic terms, but I promise you. I promise you, you and America are a much safer nation because of Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia,” Biden said.
But the evening was still about politics, after all the fundraising dinner is one of the largest events for the party of the year.
Attendees paid $75 a plate, and with more than 1,500 in the room, state Democratic Party Chair Larry Puccio called it one of the most successful dinners in the party’s history.
Even Rockefeller took time during his question and answer session with his daughter and wife to endorse Natalie Tennant, West Virginia’s Secretary of State and the Democratic candidate running to fill his seat.
Rockefeller, who will retire in early 2015 after 30 years in the U.S. Senate, said he has been lucky to serve West Virginia and the entire country on a broad scale, fighting for jobs, health care, working people, seniors and veterans.