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Former Gov. Caperton not interested in Senate run

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Gaston Caperton is done with politics.    

Many considered the former governor a potential candidate for U.S. Senate when Sen. Jay Rockefeller announced his plans to retire after 2014, but Caperton said he has no interest in Capitol Hill.

Or any other elected office, for that matter.

"I'm almost 73 years old. People ask me, why are you not running for United States Senate. If I did, I'd be elected at 75 years old and, six years later, I'd be 81 years old if I ran for re-election," he said.

"I'm not going to run again."

It's not an entirely surprising decision. Caperton has campaigned for office exactly twice in his life: the 1988 bid for governor, in which he defeated incumbent Gov. Arch Moore, and his 1992 re-election campaign.

While he has long been interested in politics, Caperton is a businessman by training and trade. He made his father's small insurance company into one of the largest insurance brokers in the nation before handing the firm over to a blind trust when he became West Virginia's 31st chief executive.

After leaving office, Caperton went on to teach at Harvard and Columbia University. In 1999, he became president of the College Board, a New York-based group that runs Advanced Placement courses in schools around the world and administers the SAT for high school seniors.

He left that job in June of last year to spend more time in West Virginia.

Caperton says he's healthy, exercises regularly and tries to keep his Diet Coke intake to a minimum. He's still tall and beanstalk-thin. But politics, for him, is a younger man's game.

"I'm going to continue to work real hard because I like to. I don't want to slow down, but God will make you slow down. There's an aging process that you can't beat," he said.

So for now, Caperton is just glad to be home.

He left West Virginia shortly after moving out of the Governor's Mansion in 1997.

"You're elected governor for eight years. Then it's somebody else's term, and you don't want to be a critic.

"I wouldn't have wanted to be around and have somebody say, 'they did such-and-such, what do you think about that?' I think you do your job and you carry on," he said.

He didn't have many plans at the time, but soon was offered a semester-long fellowship at Harvard's Institute of Politics.

The fellowship required Caperton to teach class once a week but, other than that, he was allowed to audit as many courses as he liked. He scoped out the best professors and enrolled in courses on religion, business and jazz.

"It really was a nice change," he said.

When his time at Harvard ended, Caperton was offered a job at New York's Columbia University, where he taught doctorate-level courses in leadership at the university's world-renowned education school. That job didn't last long, however, as Caperton became president and CEO of the College Board in July 1999.

The association had 200 employees when he arrived. By the time he retired, the company had grown to around 600 employees. Caperton oversaw the expansion of the College Board's Advanced Placement program and a redesign of its SAT college admission test, adding a writing section to a test previously limited to multiple-choice questions.

He left the College Board for the same reason he left West Virginia more than 15 years ago: it was time to give someone else their turn.

Caperton is still working, at least for now, with an investment company that purchases education companies. The work still takes him away from the Mountain State quite frequently, but he hopes to be living here full-time in the next few years.

He is hopeful for West Virginia's future.

"I think we have an outstanding state school board," he said. "I think you're going to see improvements in education, which is critical to the future of our state and its people "

He said the current state Board of Education is goal-oriented and "unpolitical" with a good understanding of how education works.

"I've seen pettiness. I've seen unnecessary political infighting. I think today there's a real recognition that the work they're doing is the future of this state. I think this can be a really great time for education in West Virginia."

Caperton also commended Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin and state lawmakers for passing a wide-ranging education reform bill during the recent legislative session. But he urged them not to be content with this year's progress.

"It isn't enough to decide every five or 10 years you're going to have education reform. It's got to be every day, every year.

"This is the beginning, not the end."

He does not plan to participate in the state's education system in any official capacity, but Caperton said he is interested in finding ways to help improve education and economic development in the state.

"I've always been involved here, but I'd like to be more involved," he said. "I think the work that I've done outside West Virginia helps me better understand what needs to be done here."

Once again, Caperton finds himself at a crossroads. He doesn't have any concrete plans. He plans to take some time and assess his options.

"It's kind of a time for me to get caught up and learn. I'm going to try to spend the next year finding where I can be helpful.

Given his history, he likely will not be looking for long.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-7939 or Follow him at

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