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George Bunting reflects on lifetime of service

Longtime lawmaker reflects on his career and the way forward
March 6, 2018

George Bunting is surrounded by history.

His Rehoboth Beach office contains photos of former Vice President Joe Biden and former U.S. Sen. Bill Roth. There's one of Bunting's dad with Harry Truman. He can tell you anecdotes about everyone from Bill Clinton to Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf.

Despite all that, despite his 28 years of public service from which he retired in 2012, Bunting still considers himself a grunt.

"Just like I was a grunt in the Marines, I was a grunt in the Legislature. I did the work. I was not the point person. We're grunt people. We like to do the serving and let other people do the leading," he said.

Bunting retired from public office in 2012, for a variety of reasons: to spend more time with his wife of 50 years, a desire to cut back his workload and for his health. The now 73-year-old Bunting underwent a kidney swap in 2008; shortly after his kidney operation, Bunting suffered a heart attack and required a stent.

"By the end, I knew I needed to get out. Twenty-eight years is enough. I needed someone else to come in," Bunting said.

His hair is grayer now, but Bunting remains trim and fit, with a demeanor that is more friendly downtown businessman than slick politico. His easygoing manner sucks visitors in as he veers from story to story, and suddenly an hour has flown by.

Although he is retired from the General Assembly, Bunting says he's as active as ever, running his insurance office, working on veterans issues, serving on the board of directors of the Inland Bays Foundation, and urging the funding and rebuilding of new schools within his old district.
"You're out, but you're not out, so to speak," he said.

To stay in good shape, Bunting works out at Beebe Healthcare's gym three times a week.

"My wife calls it my social club," he said. "I'm one of the few locals there. I think three of us are Vietnam vets."

While he's glad he's not working two jobs anymore, Bunting said he is reminded of his work as a legislator every day.

"Looking, back, I remember the 15 years we were trying to get the [Indian River Inlet] bridge built. You see some reality. A lot of times, you just try to plant the seed," he said.

Bunting was first elected as state representative and served for 12 years. In Dover, he met Sen. Richard Cordrey, a longtime state senator from Millsboro, and the man whom Bunting considers a mentor.

"He always said, 'Learn the art of compromise.' You got more done. When Richard was up there, I was on the last term of [Gov. Pete] du Pont. I served with five governors. Sen. Cordrey and du Pont became great friends. Pete was governor; Richard was president pro tem of the Senate. One couldn't do anything without the other. They accomplished a lot," Bunting said.

His willingness to compromise for the greater good may come from his military background. After attending college in Virginia, Bunting signed up for the Marine Corps, and in 1966, he deployed to Vietnam during the early days of the Vietnam War.

"We were the first to take the Viet Cong kind of head-on. That part of my life was one of the main changes in my life. We were there for each other," Bunting said. The biggest change, he said, was becoming active politically.

"I came back, probably with a chip on my shoulder. I was mad at my government for what we'd done," he said. He then points to two pictures of friends who were killed in Vietnam.

After leaving the military, Bunting went to work for DuPont for five years before coming back to the Cape Region and opening a State Farm branch in Rehoboth with good friend and fellow Vietnam veteran, Bill Vernon.

"I came over here in '74, '75. I had a portable typewriter, an answering machine and me," Bunting said.

By 1979, he became the president of the chamber of commerce, and four years later, he made his first run for the General Assembly.
"I think I was the only Democrat in town," Bunting said.

His first race was against Republican Bill Scott, a race Bunting won by 50 votes. "Just pure luck," he said.

After 12 years as a representative, Bunting ran for state Senate after Cordrey stepped down.

Bunting grew up in Frankford. It was an innocent time, he said, with neighborhood kids playing sports until all hours. "You kind of wish you could return to those days. You didn't have to lock your house. Everything was more community-oriented. You had friendships across lines. Your word was your bond. In no way was it a perfect time, but the nation was at peace. It was a good time," Bunting said.

His father, George Sr., served in the Coast Guard during World War II in the Pacific theater and later became active in Delaware politics.
"My father was the oldest of six boys. His father died at 37. My father was an organizer. He was a committeeman down in Frankford," he said. “That's George Sr. in the photo on his son's office wall, standing next to President Truman. Truman walked up to him and said, 'Boys, let's get a picture,'" Bunting said.

The younger Bunting had his own encounter with a U.S. president when President Bill Clinton addressed the General Assembly. During the president's speech, Bunting said his colleague, Sen. Harris McDowell, got a little too enthusiastic and found himself the only person in the room applauding.

"The president said something, and Harris started to clap. And everybody broke up, started laughing. The president said, 'I'll take it,'" Bunting recalled.

Bunting's father was also an early supporter of Biden, the former U.S. senator and vice president; in Bunting's office is a signed note thanking Bunting Sr. for his support during Biden's U.S. Senate campaign in 1975.

"When he first came down here, Sen. Curtis Steen – he's a legend in his own time from Dagsboro," Bunting recalled. "Curt was a big man. He had Joe, and he was taking him around in this big old Cadillac. He looked at Joe, and said, 'Joe, you're Catholic.' Joe said, 'But my wife's Episcopal.'" As Bunting recalls, Steen said, "We can go with that."

While he's met his share of top politicians, Bunting, a father of two, has also faced his share of tragedies. His father died in a drowning incident in 1979, and in 1990, Bunting lost his 12-year-old son, Christian.

Bunting said he's disturbed by what he says is rising racial dissension in the world today. Bunting grew up at a time when schools were racially segregated, something he said he did not understand, particularly after serving with black soldiers in Vietnam, and having the Nanticoke Native American tribe in his district. "I never saw anybody's blood that wasn't red," he said. "It's troubling. I have no idea how it can be resolved. We seem to have not have learned from tragedies and racial divide. I think in some respects people are doing better, but in other respects, we've taken a step back."