Rockefeller’s Final Years in Senate Will Be Intense

Powerful Senate leader won’t seek sixth term

Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) may be retiring, but he’s going to go out with a bang.

In his formal announcement speech today, the high-ranking Democrat signaled that he intends to “keep up this intensity” until he exits the Senate in 2014. Several times he referred to a “no holds barred approach.”

As chairman of the Commerce committee and the No. 2 member on the Finance committee, Rockefeller has a lot of clout to pursue his pet issues, including those that impact the media, advertising and telecommunications industries. Among these are Internet privacy, media violence and the initiative to update the nation’s communications and telecommunications laws.

News broke earlier in the day that the 75-year-old Senator would not seek a sixth term. His lengthy, formal announcement was delivered from the Charleston, W.Va., Culture Center, where he was supported by scores of family members and supporters amid a backdrop of photos commemorating highlights of his career.

Running down the list of his accomplishments, Rockefeller explained his philosophy of legislating.

“You keep pushing, you keep asking, you keep hoping,” Rockefeller said. “You don’t always get a ‘yes,’ but you certainly don’t get a ‘yes’ if you don’t ask for it.”

Under Rockefeller, the Commerce committee has taken the lead on Internet privacy issues, a course he plans to continue. An unapologetic skeptic of self-regulation, Rockefeller has been a strong advocate for more comprehensive online and mobile Do Not Track privacy legislation, in addition to opening a new privacy probe into data broker practices.

A champion of laws to protect children (he co-authored the E-Rate program that provides Internet access to schools), Rockefeller was among the lawmakers that pressured the Federal Trade Commission to update the rules governing the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. When it came time last month for the FTC to announce those updates to Coppa, Rockefeller arranged for the press conference to take place in the Commerce committee room.

“The old rule never fully appreciated the third-party companies and neither do I,” Rockefeller said at the Coppa event. “They make their living grinding out…private information about kids and use it commercially to the disadvantage of the nation.”

Rockefeller will also be a leading voice in the debate over how to reduce gun violence. Within days of the Sandy Hook tragedy, he crafted a bill calling for a study of the impact of violent video games and violent programming on children. 

The Senator could also take on updates of aging communications and telecommunications laws, especially given his recent success in getting legislation passed that will lead to the establishment of a nationwide interoperable public safety network.

“You can step back or you can step up,” said Dan Jaffe, the evp of the Association of National Advertisers. “So far, Rockefeller has been active.”