Safety and security on many fronts will be some of the main issues that Valerie Jones Giltner, R-Georgetown, will be paying attention to during her first session of the Delaware General Assembly.
Giltner, who was sworn in Tuesday as the Delaware General Assembly’s sole Republican woman, won a special election in December to replace Ruth Briggs King. She resigned before Thanksgiving after moving outside her district.
“I think she’s going to do a great job,” said Briggs King, who had been looking for the right person to replace her and urged Giltner to run. She also attended Giltner’s swearing-in Tuesday, the first day of the 2024 session.
Briggs King expects Giltner to focus on constituent service while keeping an eye on family values and on conservative values and concerns in the legislature.
“She’s going to be a hard worker,” Briggs King said. “She has a lot of my tendencies and she’s going to ask a lot of questions. She has her own personality, her own way of doing things. She will be very effective.”
Both began their careers at Milford Hospital, she in medical technology and Giltner in critical care nursing. Both went on to work at national companies and often were the only women at the table in meetings.
“So she’s well versed in that kind of dynamic as well as negotiating, compromising and leading at the level,” Briggs King said. “She will be able to work on complex issues but make sure that there’s that voice that sometimes is under-represented.”
Giltner, who was joined by her parents Tom and Janice Jones, husband John Roehl, daughter Olivia, son Parker, his wife Lexie and their daughter Eden Grace, took the oath of office on a family Bible as Rep. Tim Dukes, R-Laurel, read her oath.
She chose Dukes because early on in the election process he became a mentor and spent time with her canvassing neighborhoods that once had been in his district, but now are in her 37th District. He also took her son to Jamaica on church mission trips twice.
She’s become interested in safety and security — on roads, in schools, from flooding and from crimes — because the issues came up over and over again while she was campaigning, Giltner said.
She had expected worries about schools and education.
“But I didn’t realize until I got into areas that I normally don’t visit that there was so much that was impacted by the security of our roads,” she said. “And then making sure that we have ample prosecution.”
Sussex County’s roads have been impacted by the number of newcomers as well as the number of new subdivisions. All the new homes and other development has meant the decimation of natural flood prevention, she said.
“The fields no longer have trees and vegetation, so that there’s more runoff and even though there are retention ponds, it’s a whole big mess,” she said. “So I’ll have to, first and foremost, be a representative and make sure that those people have the resources that they need and that we get things like that fixed.”
This was the first time that Giltner ran for public office. She was surprised to be characterized as a “no name” candidate by supporters of her Democratic opponent.
Even so, she found campaigning more enjoyable than she expected and was pleased to find so many constituents wanted to discuss issues with her.
“I have always enjoyed meeting people but I didn’t know how they would react when they knew that there’s a political person on their front step, but I should have just relied on what I know about folks in my area. We are very friendly people and we do welcome others, whether it’s a politician or your next door neighbor. Everybody in my area is just so friendly.”
Giltner said she’s not sure what to expect in her first session, although she does expect it to be fast-paced.
Other issues that she will be paying attention to include health care, education and laws affecting working families.
“We’ve already seen some of the political maneuvering from the Democrats,” she said.
She cited members of the House Appropriations Committee who signed the back of a gun permit bill allowing it out of committee without a public hearing without telling the two Republican members before they sent out a press release.
With state elections coming up in November along with the national one, Giltner said, “I expect there to be some election year maneuvering going on from the majority, I should say/ I expect that we’re probably going to have a full agenda, because folks really want to get something done.”
Giltner is filling the second half of Briggs King’s term, which ends this year.
She has no plans to introduce any bills before March, after she’s had some experience in the House and the Joint Finance Committee holds its hearings about funding requests.
Giltner says she does feel a particular responsibility as the only Republican woman.
“I think it’s to continue to not only make sure that my Republican counterparts, but also my Democratic counterparts in the House, continuously have the needs of women at the forefront of their thoughts as far as the impact of the bills they’re proposing,” she said.
She also hopes to be a good role model to young women, sending the message that a woman can be a mother, can be a wife and also can be successful.
“You don’t have to choose,” she said.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience.
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