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Terry Punt leaving Pa. office after 30 years of doing 'my very best'

November 22, 2008|By DON AINES

WAYNESBORO, Pa. -- In 1973, a 23-year-old Terry Punt jumped into politics with both feet, selling his house, quitting his job and running for Franklin County treasurer.

At the end of that election night, the votes were counted and Punt lost.

"I congratulated the winner, drove home with my parents and cried," Punt recalled recently.

Five years later, Punt sold his house again for cash to run a campaign, took a leave of absence from his job and ran for the 90th District seat in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives. He won the Republican nomination and, when incumbent Democratic Rep. Bill Shuman died, won election against a candidate named by the Democratic Party to replace Shuman.

"We've been winning ever since," said Punt, who spent five terms in the House before winning the 33rd District Senate seat in 1988.

Punt's 30-year career in elected office will come to an end Nov. 30 when his term expires. Rich Alloway, who once was a member of Punt's staff, will take office in January.

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Though short in stature, Punt's career will cast a long shadow in the form of roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. A lot of asphalt and concrete have been placed during his 10 years in the House representing Franklin County, and 20 years in the Senate representing Franklin and Adams counties and a portion of York County.

"It's really hard to single out one project over another," Punt said when asked if one project stood out. "They were all very important to the people they impacted."

A few stand out, including $34 million to widen U.S. 30 east of Chambersburg, Pa., to five lanes, a project that took 16 years to push through, and a truck-climbing lane on Pa. 16 east of Rouzerville, Pa.

Punt said he has been working on a series of projects to improve Pa. 16 for 14 years, the most recent announcement being the long-delayed replacement of traffic signals and realignment of Center Square in Waynesboro.

Punt, who at one time chaired the Transportation Committee, also worked to secure scores of state grants and loans, including $16 million to renovate The Majestic Theatre in Gettysburg, Pa.; $2.5 million for The Capitol Theatre Center in Chambersburg; $3.3 million for the Trinity House in Waynesboro; $3.3 million to upgrade Waynesboro's sewage treatment plant; and $2.1 million for the state welcome center in State Line, Pa.

Punt's staff compiled a list of those and scores of other projects, as well as several pages of community revitalization grants totaling $7.6 million.

Punt said he worked with Republican and Democratic administrations in Harrisburg to get money for projects that he felt needed funding in the 33rd District, and worked with other legislators, such as former state Rep. Jeff Coy in the 89th District, to get things done.

There were frustrations along the way, Punt said.

A $73,000 project to square off the intersection of Pa. 16 and Roadside and Virginia avenues in Waynesboro eventually cost more than $300,000 and took years to complete due to archaeological audits of the site by the Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission.

"They found nothing out there," he said. "Nothing."

Archaeological and environmental studies, right-of-way disputes and lawsuits have delayed needed projects while inflating the costs, Punt said.

Asked about his biggest political disappointment, Punt said it was the failure of his proposal to make the General Assembly a unicameral body. He sponsored the bill about 15 years ago to change the legislature from two chambers to one, something he said would increase efficiency and reduce costs.

"We'd still have checks and balances with the legislative and executive branches," said Punt, but the legislative logjams created when Senate and House bills have to be reconciled would be eliminated.

"The other disappointment or failure is that of my marriage," he said, his voice cracking.

Punt's personal life has been difficult in recent years, he said, including the divorce several years ago and the 2007 death of his former wife, his quadruple bypass in 2004, his son Chris being deployed to Iraq the same year, and the death of his son-in-law earlier this year.

Punt said he ended his career not because he was going to be challenged for the GOP nomination by county Republican Committee Chairman Jim Taylor, but because of his health.

"It didn't bother me in the least. We were all ready to announce for a sixth term on a Tuesday," Punt said. A few days earlier, however, he received the results of tests that showed two more arterial blockages.

Being a new grandfather also played a role in his decision to retire.

"My father never got to see his grandchildren," Punt said. "I wanted to be around and enjoy what time I have left and see my grandchild grow."

"I'm out of politics. I'm going to be a private citizen," said Punt, who insists he will not try to play the role of elder statesman in local politics.

"As 30 years comes to an end, I can honestly say I did my very best," he said.

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