CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) - U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, who came to West Virginia as a young man from one of the world's richest families to work on antipoverty programs and remained in the state to build a political legacy, announced Friday he will not seek a sixth term.
The 75-year-old Democrat's decision, coming at a time when his popularity in a conservative state had been waning for sparring with the powerful mining industry and supporting President Barack Obama, told The Associated Press ahead of his formal announcement that it was time to retire.
After about three decades in elective office, it was time to "bring more balance to my life after a career that has been so obsessively dominated by politics and public policy and campaigns," he said. "I've gotten way out of whack in terms of the time I should spend with my wife and my children and my grandchildren."
Rockefeller's decision will set off a scramble for a seat held by Democrats since 1958. Within weeks of November's elections, Republican U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito vowed to run for the Senate seat in 2014, even if it meant going up against Rockefeller and his storied name. Other Republicans also have been eyeing the seat in recent weeks.
Rockefeller said Capito's announcement did not influence his decision. Willing to devote millions of his personal wealth toward his campaigns - including several against Capito's father, ex-Gov. Arch Moore - the senator said he believes he would have prevailed over the seven-term congresswoman.
In a state that is the second-leading producer of coal, Rockefeller's positions rankled some who are protective of an industry that brings more than 65,000 jobs to one of the nation's poorest states. He accuses mining supporters of a combative closed-mindedness in the face of inexpensive natural gas, concerns over climate change and calls for cleaner ways to burn coal. Mining advocates accuse Rockefeller of abandoning them as Obama has ramped up scrutiny of Appalachian mountaintop-removal mining operations.
"I know the coal companies are going after me. ... I can live with that, because I know that I am fighting every day for coal miners," Rockefeller said.
Rockefeller defended his support of Obama and the president's signature health care overhaul, and insisted that their unpopularity with West Virginians did not influence his decision to retire.
"I'm proud of that work, and if people don't like it, the more it comes into effect the more they will understand that it's good," he said of the health care reform.
Rockefeller said the Senate achievement he is most proud of is the 1992 measure aimed at preserving retirement benefits for miners, their widows and children, which he credits for averting a national coal strike. He also has championed stricter coal dust limits in response to a rise in mining-related black lung disease and proposed increased safety measures after the 2010 Upper Big Branch mine disaster killed 29 West Virginians.
Other top issues he has had a hand shaping include child welfare, cybersecurity and foreign trade. He chairs the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, and previously served at the helms of Intelligence and Veterans' Affairs. He co-sponsored legislation creating the states-level Children's Health Insurance Program, and helped persuade the U.S. Veterans Affairs Department to revisit disability claims arising from what has become known as "Gulf War Illness."
The great-grandson of famed industrialist John D. Rockefeller first arrived in West Virginia as a volunteer with the VISTA national service program in 1964. Within two years, he had won election to the Legislature, and then as secretary of state in 1968. After a failed run for governor in 1972 and four years as president of West Virginia Wesleyan College, Rockefeller won his first term as governor in 1976.
Toward the end of his second term, he narrowly captured the U.S. Senate seat of a retiring Jennings Randolph in 1984. He won by comfortable margins in each of his five terms.
Rockefeller hails from a family of many achievers: In addition to the successes of his oil billionaire great-grandfather, two uncles, Nelson Rockefeller and Winthrop Rockefeller, served as governors of New York and Arkansas, respectively. Rockefeller's father, John D. Rockefeller III, was a well-known philanthropist and founded the Asia Society, while his uncle David Rockefeller ran Chase Manhattan Bank.
"West Virginia has become my life and my cause," Rockefeller said. "I never, ever doubt what it is I'm trying to do. West Virginia provides that to me in the form of fantastically hard-working, tough, warm-hearted people."
Rockefeller became the state's senior senator upon the 2010 death of Robert C. Byrd, a fellow Democrat and history's longest-serving member of Congress. In his remaining time in office, he said, he plans to focus now on the fight over federal spending, taxes and the debt limit and the future of such programs as Medicaid.
"We have a whole lot of work to do for the next two years," Rockefeller said. "I'm very glad I'm going to be a part of that."
Rockefeller was to be joined during Friday's formal announcement by his wife, Sharon Percy Rockefeller, and other family members. The couple have four adult children and six grandchildren. Sharon Rockefeller was successfully treated for colorectal cancer after a 2005 diagnosis, and the senator has more recently endured torn tendons in his left knee.
"I will spend the next couple of years thinking of what I can do to continue to fight for the causes I believe in," Rockefeller said. He added, "I will not be leaving West Virginia. West Virginia will always be my home."
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — For much of the past three decades, pit bulls have been widely regarded as America’s most dangerous dog — the favorite breed of thugs, drug dealers and dog-fighting rings, with a fearsome reputation for unprovoked, sometimes deadly attacks.
Hostility toward “pits” grew so intense that some cities began treating them as the canine equivalent of assault rifles and prohibited residents from owning them.
But attitudes have softened considerably since then as animal activists and even television shows cast the dogs in a more positive light. The image makeover has prompted many states to pass new laws that forbid communities from banning specific breeds. And it illustrates the power and persistence of dog-advocacy groups that have worked to fend off pit bull restrictions with much the same zeal as gun-rights groups have defeated gun-control measures.
“Lawmakers are realizing that targeting dogs based on their breed or what they look like is not a solution to dealing with dangerous dogs,” said Lisa Peters, a spokeswoman for the American Kennel Club.
Seventeen states now have laws that prohibit communities from adopting breed-specific bans. Lawmakers in six more states are considering similar measures, and some cities are reviewing local policies that classify pit bulls as dangerous animals.
Pit bull advocates hail the changes as recognition that breed-specific laws discriminate against dogs that are not inherently aggressive or dangerous unless they are made to be that way by irresponsible owners.
The dogs’ foes complain that their message is being drowned out by a well-funded, well-organized lobbying effort in state capitols. The debate puts millions of pit bull owners up against a relatively small number of people who have been victimized by the dogs.
Ron Hicks, who sponsored a bill in the Missouri House to forbid breed-specific legislation, said he was surprised when nobody spoke against his proposal last month at a committee hearing.
“I figured a few parents would be there who would bring tears to my eyes,” the Republican said. “Would it have changed my opinion or what I believe in? No.”
A version of Hicks’ legislation was endorsed by a House committee last month and needs to clear another committee before a full House vote. The state Senate is considering a comparable bill, as are lawmakers in Utah, South Dakota, Washington, Vermont and Maryland.
In Kansas, the communities of Bonner Springs and Garden City repealed their pit-bull bans earlier this year.
Summer Freeman did not know there was a ban when she moved to Bonner Springs last year after a divorce. She panicked when an animal-control officer discovered her pet and told her she had 15 days to get rid of the dog named Titan or move out of town.
“I think of him like my son,” she said. “He’s my dog-son, I guess you could say. He’s at my hip all the time. He’s just a big baby that wouldn’t hurt a fly.”
Freeman was forced to leave Titan at a shelter in Lawrence for nine months until she successfully fought to overturn the law in January.
For dog owners and pit bull opponents alike, the battle is as deeply personal as any gun-control or religious issue. Each side accuses the other of lying, exploiting emotions and using bullying tactics.
Pit bull owners insist their dogs are harmless, loving family members that shouldn’t be blamed for something they didn’t do. To opponents, they are a volatile breed whose genetics drive them to kill more than two dozen people in the U.S. each year, many of them young children.
Popular television shows such as “Pit Boss” and “Pit Bulls and Parolees” on Animal Planet glorify the animals and minimize the tragedies that occur when pit bulls turn on humans, pit bull opponents say.
“Everything is telling us these animals are safe if you raise them right,” said Jeff Borchardt, a Stevens Point, Wis., man whose 14-month-old son was mauled to death a year ago by two pit bulls that tore the child from the arms of their owner, who was baby-sitting. “My son’s dead because of a lie, because of a myth. My life will never be the same.”
The two dogs that killed Borchardt’s son had lived with their owner since soon after they were born, were well-cared for and had no history of aggressive behavior, he said. Both had been spayed or neutered.
That contradicts the contention that only mistreated, neglected or abused pit bulls attack people.
Colleen Lynn, founder of DogsBite.org, pointed to a friend-of-the-court brief her organization submitted in a 2012 case in which the Maryland Court of Appeals declared pit bulls “inherently dangerous.”
“Appellate courts agree with us. Doctors and surgeons agree with us. That is credibility right there,” Lynn said. “We also have the support of three divisions of the U.S. military, huge, massive bodies in the U.S. government.”
The Marines, Army and Air Force all have banned dangerous dogs — including pit bulls and rottweilers — from their bases because of the “unreasonable risk” they pose to safety, Lynn said.
On the other side stand the American Bar Association and National Animal Control Association, which oppose breed-specific laws because they are discriminatory against a type of dog that isn’t really a single breed.
Three main breeds — Staffordshire bull terrier, American pit bull terrier and American Staffordshire terrier — along with mixes of those breeds are generally considered pit bulls. But many muscular, square-jawed, boxer-type dogs often are misidentified as pit bulls, making breed-specific bans hard to enforce.
And because fatal pit bull attacks are a rarity compared with other causes of death such as auto accidents, dog advocates argue that breed-specific bans amount to legislative overkill.
“All communities deserve comprehensive dog laws that demand responsible dog ownership and that hold reckless owners accountable when their poor decisions wind up getting other dogs or other people hurt,” said Ledy Vankavage, a top lobbyist for the Best Friends Animal Society.
Don Burmeister, assistant city attorney for Council Bluffs, Iowa, led the effort to pass a local pit bull ban that took effect in 2005. He recalled first reading about the issue in the July 27, 1987, issue of Sports Illustrated, which carried a full-cover shot of an angry pit bull baring its teeth. Across the top, it said “BEWARE OF THIS DOG.”
After the Council Bluffs ban went into place, the number of pit bull attacks that resulted in hospitalization plummeted from 29 in 2004 to zero the past few years — proof, Burmeister said, that breed-specific bans work.
The opposition to pit bull bans, he added, is a sign that many American pet owners have lost touch with reality.
“Fifty years ago, you could take a sick animal behind a barn and put it out of its misery,” he said. “That’s just the way it was done. Now they would investigate you for doing that. The emotional irrationality of Americans and their dogs has never been worse than it is today.”
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