Despite brashness, Bunning still a hero in Kentucky

March 14, 2010 | | Comments 14
U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate

U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning, R-Southgate

HEBRON — Irascible Republican U.S. Sen. Jim Bunning has been a pariah among his congressional colleagues. Back in the conservative swath of northern Kentucky he calls home, though, he’s being heralded as a hero.

Democrats bemoaned Bunning as unsympathetic to down-on-their-luck Americans when he single-handedly held up a $10 billion spending bill that had money for jobless benefits. He’s not popular among Republican senators, either — including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky — who worked to dry up the brash lawmaker’s fundraising so he’d have no choice but to drop out of his re-election campaign.

Back home, the former major league pitcher and hall-of-famer is known as a budget hawk standing against out-of-control federal spending. Some 400 people paid $60 to $100 each to reserve seats to honor him at a dinner Saturday evening. McConnell was conspicuously absent, but scores of other politicians lavished Bunning with praise.

“Jim Bunning has been right more than he’s been wrong,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, a Republican who thinks of Bunning as his mentor. “And history will show that he, more than anyone else, predicted some of the economic problems we’re having now and worked to try to prevent them.”

Bunning had been widely considered the most vulnerable Republican incumbent heading into this year’s elections, and with the GOP trying to retake majority control of the Senate, they encouraged the 78-year-old not to seek a third term. Many feared he couldn’t hold the seat against one of the two prominent Democratic candidates, Lt. Gov. Daniel Mongiardo and Attorney General Jack Conway.

But given the change in political mood, Alecia Webb-Edgington — who helped organize the dinner — believes Bunning might have been written off too quickly.

“He’s incredibly popular,” she said. “I truly believe he could have easily won another term.”

Grayson, who is running for the Senate seat, called Bunning “a Hall of Famer in baseball, politics and life.”

This is the same Bunning who has been known to curse at reporters, the tenacious campaigner who once described a Democratic challenger of Italian descent as looking like one of Saddam Hussein’s sons. He apologized for that comment.

And, last year, he apologized again after he predicted Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, would be dead within a year.

“Jim Bunning may not be known for his sense of humor,” Kentucky Republican U.S. Rep. Geoff Davis said in an interview, “but he is a man of unimpeachable integrity.”

Davis said Bunning stood alone against the “hatred and vitriol” of the liberal media and liberal Democrats when he stalled the spending bill a few weeks ago.

“Jim Bunning did not flinch,” Davis told attendees, triggering one of several standing ovations.
Bunning sat quietly beside his wife of 58 years, Mary, while a video tribute played on huge screens and supporters wiped tears.

He offered his thanks for the tribute in a short speech that he closed by saying “I love you all.”

Bunning made only a passing reference to his action on the spending bill, saying “I’m extremely worried about the condition of the United States of America presently. You cannot keep charging things to the national credit card.”

State GOP Chairman Steve Robertson praised Bunning as “a man who has lived the principles of the Republican Party.” Robertson called on Bunning to “continue to give them hell” in Washington, sparking cheers from the crowd.

That move exposed Bunning to widespread ridicule. White House spokesman Robert Gibbs said: “I don’t know how you negotiate with the irrational.”

Bunning also became fodder for late-night comedians, with Jon Stewart of Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show” calling Bunning a “cranky obstructionist” and joking that he is “leaving the Senate to spend more time obstructing his family’s progress.”

However, Webb-Edgington said supporters saw Bunning’s action as heroic because he took a stand against adding to the deficit.

“He flies the flag for the Republican party,” she said.

Ryan Quarles of Georgetown, a law student at the University of Kentucky, credited Bunning with reinvigorating fiscal conservatives in the Republican Party with his stand on deficit spending.

“At some point, a line had to be drawn on spending,” Quarles said. “Sen. Bunning had the courage to draw that line.”

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  2. Sally says:

    So Bunning had to draw a line on spending. Too bad he didn’t draw that line before Bush erased a huge surplus and put the US way into the red. I guess lines are drawn only when your party isn’t in power. Otherwise spend all you want.

  3. bonzo66 says:

    Bunning is far from being a hero. He was willing to let thousands of families suffer for political expediency. I’m sure he made quiet a hit with the teabaggers and the neo-cons who apparently love human misery. I got mine and screw the rest of us, right?

  4. keith says:

    a bitter, hateful old man. who will now suck off his GOVERMENT pension, and GOVERMENT HEALTHCARE. the same GOVERMENT programs he wants no one else to have. typical neo-con mindset, its bad, unless i benefit from it

  5. rusenile says:

    Bunning is stepping down because he would lose. He’s not a hero. He’s a borrow and squander Republican.

  6. Buck Feshear says:

    In the political climate of a year ago, Bunning would have been a loser. So would Paul or Grayson. But things change in a year, and things have changed since McConnell forced Bunning from the race.

    McConnell and Bunning both stabbed Fletcher in the back, now McConnell has done it to Bunning. You used to be a good senator, Bunning. You too, McConnell. Happy to see one retiring and will be very happy to see McConnell go as well.

  7. Noah says:

    Funny how the wannabe Senate candidates are now lavishing praise on Bunning after they (along with a good many NKYians in that room who stood up to applaud him) were stabbing him in the back one year ago.

  8. Jancie says:

    This is a joke. Bunning is NO hero in my book and alot of peoples who are on unemployement and have been for some time since there are NO jobs. Those people that went to this were stupid for paying that kind of money, they must be the rich one and are Big Republications and had jobs.

  9. David says:

    If poetic justice were fact, something would happen to prevent Bunning from from collecting his underserved pension dollars. Well, we can wish he would be paid what he is worth and not the senate has decided to give themselves. In any case, to call him a hero tarnishes the term. A hero is one who acts on others behalf, without regard for his own well being, and Bunning certainly is not capable of thet.

  10. dbk says:

    I have nothing but utter and complete contempt for this person! I am sorry however that he is not running for re-election this year. I was looking forward to seeing him humiliated at the polls.

  11. newferry says:

    Reagan is a “fiscal conservative” hero too. We were only 800 billion in debt when he became President, and when he left we were 3 TRILLION in debt. Thanks Bunning for borrowing us into debt.

  12. Big Ben 4 liberty says:

    I see the DEMs are spamming this thread hard. Personally I am glad that Bunning offends you, as yous deserve to be offended.

  13. HopeandChange says:

    Newferry…who was in charge of Congress (aka the body actually responsible for controlling the United States budget) during the Reagan years? Reagan, as great as he was, only accomplished half of his political goals. Without his tax cuts, federal tax revenues would not have increased and the national debt would have been higher due to Democrat spending programs. Stagflation, high interest rates, and high unemployment would have continued.

    Sally…please borrow some money to buy a clue. First, please look up the difference between “budget deficit” and “national debt.” Second, understand that Bush couldn’t “erase a huge surplus” because it was a projected surplus that never actually existed and only covered the future theoretical budgetary years…it never took the United States out of the “red.”

  14. Harold says:

    Anyone who thinks Jim Bunning is a hero, needs to get out and meet more people. Bunning is a miserable old man and I am glad he is going back to Northern Kentucky. I hope he stays there and leaves the rest of Kentuckians alone.