Nick Rahall II
Nick Joe Rahall II (born May 20, 1949) is an American former politician and member of the Democratic Party who served as a U.S. Representative from West Virginia from 1977 to 2015. He is the longest-serving member ever of the United States House of Representatives from the state of West Virginia.
From 1977 to 1993, he served the now-defunct 4th congressional district. From 1993 to 2015, he served the 3rd congressional district. His district included the southern, coal-dominated portion of the state, including Huntington, Bluefield, and Beckley. Rahall was the Ranking Member of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Rahall lost a bid for re-election to Congress in 2014, losing to West Virginia State Senator Evan Jenkins.
Rahall was born in Beckley, West Virginia, the son of Mary Alice and Nick Joe Rahall. He is a Presbyterian of Lebanese-Protestant descent, whose grandparents immigrated from Lebanon.
His family owned radio station WWNR, which his father started with his uncles Farris, Sam, and Deem, and expanded to own other radio stations in a number of states.
Rahall graduated in 1971 from Duke University. He attended graduate school at the George Washington University, but did not graduate. He then worked as a sales rep for his family’s radio station, WWNR. He served as president of the Mountaineer Tour and Travel Agency in 1974, and was president of West Virginia Broadcasting.
He went to work as staff assistant for the late U.S. Senator Robert Byrd who he identifies as a mentor.
Rahall was elected to Congress in 1976 in the 4th district, succeeding Ken Hechler who ran for governor. Rahall won the district primary with a plurality of 38%. Hechler lost the primary for governor, and attempted a write-in campaign for the congressional seat. Rahall won the general election with 46% of the vote, while Hechler got 37%.
In 1978, Hechler challenged Rahall in the Democratic primary, and Rahall won with 56% of the vote. He was re-elected 17 times. Hechler later became the West Virginia Secretary of State, and ran against Rahall in the primary in 1990. Rahall defeated him, receiving 57% of the vote.
In 1990, he defeated Republican insurance agent Marianne Brewster with just 52% of the vote, the second-lowest winning percentage of his career. The district was redrawn after the 1990 census, becoming the 3rd district, due to changes to the state’s population.
In 2010, he defeated Republican former State Supreme Court Justice Spike Maynard with 56% of the vote, his lowest percentage since 1990.
In the 2012 election, Rahall defeated Republican Rick Snuffer with 53.5% of the vote. His eight-point margin of victory was his narrowest since 1990.
In 2014, Rahall faced a primary challenge from fellow Democrat and retired Army officer Richard Ojeda. Rahall won the primary with 66.4% of the vote.
He faced Republican State Senator Evan Jenkins in the November general election. Jenkins had served in the state legislature for 20 years as a Democrat, but had switched parties. Jenkins and Rahall had contributed to each other’s campaigns in the decade’s previous election cycles.
Rahall was considered one of the most “endangered” House Democrats by the House Democratic campaign committee. He received an endorsement from the NRA. Rahall was the sole remaining Democrat in West Virginia’s three-member delegation to the House of Representatives.
As of September 18, 2014, the race was rated a “toss up” by both University of Virginia political professor Larry Sabato, of Sabato’s Crystal Ball, and Stu Rothenberg of the Rothenberg Political Report. As of October 2, managing editor Kyle Kondik of Sabato’s Crystal Ball said the race was still a toss-up, calling it “Super close, super expensive and super nasty.” The Rahall campaign outspent the Jenkins campaign in the election by a two-to-one ratio.
Ultimately, Rahall was defeated, with 44.7% of the vote to Jenkins’ 55.3% of the vote. In the process, he lost a number of areas that had reliably supported him for years.
Having served 19 terms in the House, the 65-year-old Rahall qualified for a Congressional pension of about $139,000 a year.
Rahall has expressed concern about America’s relationship with Israel. He said, “Israel can’t continue to occupy, humiliate and destroy the dreams and spirits of the Palestinian people and continue to call itself a democratic state.”
Rahall, along with other Lebanese-American lawmakers, expressed concern with a bipartisan resolution supporting Israel in the 2006 Israel-Lebanon conflict without adding language urging restraint against civilian targets. He helped draft a resolution that urged “all parties to protect innocent life and civilian infrastructure.” Rahall was one of only 8 House members to vote against a resolution supporting Israel’s right to defend itself, which was supported by 410 House members.
Rahall was the only member of the House to oppose the 1993 resolution urging Arab states to end their Arab boycott of Israel. He also pressed the State Department to end a ban on travel to Lebanon; the ban was lifted in 1997.
Rahall was the most senior of five Arab American lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
Rahall introduced legislation to improve mine safety. Rahall opposed legislation designed to end mountaintop removal mining, a process often used in West Virginia.
Rahall’s policies involving mountaintop removal mining have been criticized as reflected by author and journalist Jeff Biggers in “The Blog” in The Huffington Post, with the link between mountaintop removal mining and flooding, as well as the billions of pounds of explosives used since 2004, being given as examples.
Rahall believes that anthropogenic CO2 emissions are causing global warming, saying to the Register-Herald that denial of climate change is “to just put your head in the sand.”
Rahall called the Environmental Protection Agency “callous”, attacked greenhouse gas rule as “disastrous”, and filed legislation to block the president’s climate agenda, but in the summer of 2013 he attended a ceremony to rename the EPA headquarters and has praised EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy. Rahall, alongside three other Democrats, supported a GOP bill that would limit EPA authority on CO2 emissions, the Energy Tax Prevention Act. He commented on this, saying: “I am dead set against the E.P.A.’s plowing ahead on its own with new regulations to limit greenhouse gases.” He also voted against the American Clean Energy and Security Act.
In 2007, Rahall introduced the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which banned incandescent light bulbs. Despite introducing the legislation, Rahall voted against the bill on final passage. As a result of the legislation, as of January 1, 2014, incandescent light bulbs between 40 watts and 150 watts are illegal to manufacture or import.
In 2013, Rahall voted for the Progressive Caucus’s budget, which included provisions for a carbon tax. The budget failed to pass.
Rahall and another Congressman of Arab descent traveled to Syria and ignored State Department policy by meeting with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, whom Rahall had known for years. Queen Noor of Jordan presented Rahall with the first Najeeb Halaby Award for public service.
Rahall opposed the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Rahall had traveled to Baghdad just before the Iraq War with the intention of convincing Iraqi leaders to allow the U.N. to inspect Iraq’s weapons and have access to every site. He said that Tariq Aziz had accepted all of Bush’s demands, and that “Bush said the war was not inevitable, but we now know that wasn’t true. Iraqis did allow for complete access but Bush’s mind was already made up. Iraqis were damned if they did and damned if they didn’t …. We were falsely led into this war.”
In 2004, it was reported that Rahall feared that Syria would be attacked by Bush before the November elections. He said that “They’re using the same rhetoric against the Syrians they used against Iraqis…. We now have the Syrian Accountability Act. All this despite the State Department’s admission that Syria helped us capture key al-Qaeda operatives and helped save American lives.” As for Saudi Arabia, Rahall said that the U.S. “wouldn’t dare” attack that country: “The Kingdom has been a key ally for decades.”
Endorsement of Barack Obama
In 2008, Rahall endorsed Barack Obama, saying Obama understands the needs and aspirations of West Virginians. He was also Chair of the Arab Americans for Obama group. Explaining his position, Rahall cited Senator Byrd, who said “I work for no President. I work with Presidents.” In an interview with Keith Olbermann, Rahall said that Obama had the courage and conviction to win the presidency, and that the then-senator was a true agent for change.
In 2004, the Los Angeles Times ran an article about Rahall and his sister, lobbyist Tanya Rahall. They reported that she made $15,000 per month as a lobbyist for Qatar, and that “the person she frequently lobbies is … her older brother and one of Qatar’s biggest champions in Washington.” Rahall said “our paths cross professionally, but not across any lines appropriately established by law or House rules.” In May 2003, a year after his sister took on Qatar as a client, Rahall sponsored a resolution praising Qatar’s “years of democratic reform”; according to one academic study from 2011, “For over three years, the country [Qatar] virtually had its own congressman in Washington, Nick Rahall (D-WV)”.
In February 2005, Rahall used Congressional stationery to write a letter to a Fairfax County judge, David Stitt, asking for leniency for his son, Nick Rahall III, who was facing felony robbery charges. According to the House ethics manual: “Official stationery … may be used only for official purposes.” Rahall acknowledged that he should not have used Congressional stationery for his letter, but said it was not the same type that he uses for official or committee business. Rahall added he may have drawn the wrong paper “[i]n the emotions”, and that he would reimburse the Treasury Department for the cost of the paper. The United States House Committee on Ethics did not launch an inquiry into the incident.
Rahall was one of seven Democrats and twelve Republicans listed by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington in its annual “Most Corrupt Members of Congress Report” in 2011, Melanie Sloan, CREW’s Executive Director, said: “Rep. Rahall abused his position to help his son and sister in clear violation of the House ethics rules.” Rahall’s spokeswoman said: “There is as little merit to these allegations today as there was then.”
Rahall and his second wife, Melinda Ross of Ashland, Kentucky, married in 2004. They have three children from his previous marriage, and three grandchildren.
In 2008, Rahall appeared on an episode of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives which featured Hillbilly Hot Dogs of Lesage, West Virginia. Rahall introduced the hot dog that’s named after him on the menu, Rahall’s Red Hot Weenie.
In July 2009, Rahall jumped out of a plane to show his support for the coal industry. The event was intended to show the importance of the coal industry to both West Virginia and the United States as a whole. The act confused some, who questioned the reasoning behind the jump. It was noted that Rahall is involved with coal lobbyists and also receives contributions from the airline industry.