Bunting looks back at 28-year career

Whether one is driving over the new Indian River Inlet Bridge, attending Delaware Tech, visiting the Veterans Home in Milford or kayaking the Assawoman Canal, it is hard not to feel the impact of state Sen. George H. Bunting and his 28 years in public office. Bunting’s tenure will come to an end this November, though, as he is not seeking re-election. And while these accomplishments are just the tip of the iceberg of his time in office, Bunting is particularly proud of them and the collaboration that turned them into reality.

Coastal Point •  File photo: Senator BuntingCoastal Point • File photo
Senator Bunting

“None of what I have done would be possible without the collaboration of people. I never did one thing alone,” he said.

In the education realm, he said, one real accomplishment has been the success of Delaware Technical & Community College and its growth over the years.

“Going from having the parallel program,” in which students could attend University of Delaware classes in Georgetown for the first two years of college before going to Newark to complete a four-year degree, “to now, where students can transfer to 130 schools across the nation,” he noted of the connected degree program, “and now having Sen. [Harris] McDowell’s SEED program, where high school students with a GPA of 2.5 or greater can attend for free. You go there day or night, and the parking lot is filled, and the average age is 26. People know they can go there and further their education.”

Other educational accomplishments during Bunting’s time in office include support of the construction and renovation of schools across the county, including three new high schools, three middle schools and two elementary schools, as well as assisting with the negotiation of land for Sussex Central High School.

Bunting grew up around the Frankford/Dagsboro area and attended Indian River High School himself before moving away for a year. He is a Vietnam War veteran, having served in the Marine Corps, and now owns an insurance company in Rehoboth Beach. He has been married to his wife, Donna, for 44 years and has one living son and two grandchildren.

Bunting was involved in the Rehoboth Beach Chamber of Commerce as president in 1979 and shared a building with friend and fellow veteran Bill Vernon before starting his career in the Delaware House of Representatives.

“Bill ran for the House, and that year they created a new district. And I was kind of like a warm body. He said, ‘You think you’d like to run?’ I ran against Bill Scott and won by less than 50 votes,” Bunting recalled.

He served in the House for 12 years before running for the state senate.

Everything from the Center for the Inland Bays to the Indian River power plant to Sussex Technical High School to farmland preservation to roads has been touched by the outgoing senator. He has served on the Senate’s Joint Finance Committee and currently sits on the Capital Bond Committee and chairs the Senate Agriculture, Senate Sunset and Senate Veterans Affairs committees.

But, for Bunting, it really all boils down to helping people.

“All the meetings, countless hours of testimony and thousands of bills – it is the daily listening to people that have needs,” he said. “Some remark I run a social-service headquarters, but that’s OK!”

He said he hopes that people always felt they could call on him and know that it stayed with him — that he listened to them confidentially and did what he could on the legislative level to assist. Not that people always agreed with him or that the job didn’t come with controversy.

“I lost my second election after voting against the death penalty and supporting the Martin Luther King Jr. birthday recognition legislation in 1984, but I got back in in 1986,” he recalled.

His personal life has not been without great sadness and challenges, as well. His father drowned in 1979, and his family was forever changed with the death of his young son Christian in 1990. Then, on Veteran’s Day 2007, he and his wife both underwent surgery in a “kidney-swap” operation in which Dr. Robert Montgomery of John Hopkins in Baltimore led a team that operated on two donors and two recipients.

“Donna saved my life by giving a stranger a kidney so that I could receive a kidney after 15 months on dialysis,” he explained.

Immediately following the surgery, Bunting had a heart attack and had a stent put in, but he has since recovered. He said he has great respect for his wife and her sacrifices and, while he will still run his insurance business after his retirement from the Senate, he plans on taking more vacations and spending more time with her.

“In the past, she has stood on the pavement from 7 a.m. to poll closing in front of Lord Baltimore Elementary, handing out literature and carrying my water. Not always were people not critical. She has listened to years of tough phone calls on so many issues – 44 years married, as a former nurse who married a returning Vietnam Marine grunt, takes unbelievable staying power,” he said of his wife.

Bunting said that part of his own staying power was that he never played the political side of things, rather he followed his heart and conscience on matters that were important.

“I try to be an independent voice. I’m not a strong political person on one side or another, and I represent a district that is predominantly not my political party,” he acknowledged.

“People are not always happy with what I do, but if you can go to a man one on one, they respect that. Many times they just want to vent, and they say, ‘It’s not you George. I’m just so mad about this or about that.’ They just want to be represented by people who are engaged and who really care about their welfare.”