Rockefeller's weariness had become evident
The annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner for West Virginia Democrats was underway at the Charleston Civic Center. The state's leading Democrats were rallying the faithful with their best stem-winder speeches.
When it came time for the state's senior Democrat, U.S. Sen. Jay Rockefeller, to take the podium, he passed.
Rockefeller, 75, who has suffered through back and knee pain for years, didn't think he could stand on his feet for another half-hour.
When a politician forgoes an opportunity to give a speech before an adoring crowd, you know all is not well.
So when the five-term senator announced Friday that he will not run for re-election in 2014, you heard people say they were not necessarily surprised.
But I suspect there are more reasons than the increasing physical limitations that contributed to Rockefeller's decision. Slowing down causes one to, as Rockefeller said, "recalibrate. . . to find a new balance for the thing I love - public service, and family."
Typically, the most insincere sentiment spoken by retiring politicians is that they want to "spend more time with their family." It's great cover for the real reasons powerful men and women move - or are pushed - from the spotlight.
But I believe Rockefeller.
He and Sharon have four grown children with families of their own and six grandchildren. "They are endlessly supportive and bring such total joy," Rockefeller said, as he looked upon many of those family members in the front row during Friday's announcement.
Interestingly, in a video piece posted on Rockefeller's website just a few days earlier, the senator said he was frustrated with political gridlock in Washington, D.C.
"It seems like many of my colleagues have forgotten how to get along with each other," Rockefeller lamented.
There was a tone of resignation in his voice. Although Rockefeller said in his retirement announcement that he will continue to fight and work for causes he cares about, the weariness is evident.
As one Rockefeller associate put it, would you rather spend your remaining days traipsing through the corridors of the Hart Building (the Senate office building) or playing with the grandkids in your Pocahontas County home?
Another thought is that Rockefeller faces a difficult re-election challenge in 2014.
The likely Republican challenger, Shelley Moore Capito, is a popular Republican congresswoman. Rockefeller would not get the usual pass that accompanies a sitting U.S. senator in West Virginia.
Sure, Rockefeller could win a sixth term, but it wasn't going to be easy.
In the late Robert Byrd's autobiography, "Child of The Appalachian Coalfields," the iconic senator waxed eloquently about the stages of his life:
"It was a road filled with hopes in the morning of life; preparation when the sun was at its meridian; and service in the long afternoon with lengthening shadows that stretch away to hills of the night."
Byrd watched the shadows from his beloved Senate, the place where he was truly home, the place where he would spend his final days.
Rockefeller, it would seem, has other plans.
Kercheval is host of TalkLine, broadcast by the MetroNews Statewide Radio Network from 10 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. The show can be heard locally on WCHS 580 AM.