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Senator will miss shaping policy

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Jay Rockefeller has about 22 months left until he retires from the U.S. Senate, and the veteran politician vows he's going to make every minute count.

Rockefeller and I spoke for more than an hour on the phone last week. The conversation focused mainly on his concerns about the U.S. cruise industry, but he also took the time to speak more broadly about his pending retirement and his view of Congress's role in consumer protection.

Rockefeller, D-W.Va., announced early this year that he won't seek re-election in 2014.

While he said he will be glad to get away from the political bickering that now dominates Washington, Rockefeller said it will be tough to walk away from a position that allows him to shape public policy.

"I'll really miss this stuff," Rockefeller said.

"Public service is a good thing," he said. "I'm not saying that people get up saying, 'Thank heavens for Congress.' Congress has always been sort of disliked over the years.

"But public policy is interesting because you can fix problems, you can fix things."  

Rockefeller said his position as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee has given him a unique opportunity to act as a consumer watchdog against corporate excess.

"There's a lot of sneaking around in this world, between individuals or companies," Rockefeller said.

"That's what we're there for, and that's why we have to be there, because nobody else is taking them on, scrutinizing them for what they do."

He talked about taking on the late Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf on Gulf War Syndrome and scrutinizing Boeing for recent battery issues with their 787 Dreamliner.

Now, following the recent incident aboard the Carnival Triumph, he plans to put the cruise industry under the microscope for not doing enough to protect passengers.

 "You have what's called the Sunshine Theory," Rockefeller said. "You've got to put the sunshine on misdeeds, people taking advantage of other people, or else no one's ever going to hear about them.

"You have to watch this stuff," he said. "People don't necessarily do the right thing and if people can take advantage of someone else, they'll do it."

***

Meanwhile, following up on my joke in last week's column about shoring up the State Road Fund by allowing police to pull over and fine Ohio drivers improperly using the passing lane, looks like some state lawmakers feel the same way.

Delegates Tom Azinger, R-Wood; Allen Evans, R-Grant; William Romine, R-Tyler; and Larry Faircloth, R-Berkeley, last week introduced House Bill 3109, creating the traffic offense of improperly using the passing lane.

The bill - nicknamed by one of my Twitter followers as "The Buckeye Driver Act" - would allow police to pull over a driver who stayed in the passing lane for more than two minutes without actually passing anyone. Cited drivers would face a $50 fine.

While the bill probably won't go anywhere, this commuter sure does appreciate the effort.


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