For state Rep. Gerald Hocker (R-38th), running for re-election to his state House of Representatives seat is as much about what he has done already as it is about his vision for the future.
“My first time running [against Shirley Price], I won by 57 votes,” he recalled. “The second time [again defeating Price] it was by about 3,000. The third time [against a different opponent] I won receiving 71 percent of the vote. This makes me feel good — like I am doing my job.”
He said he is grateful that he is able to “treat the community they treat me” and appreciates that he is able to give back to them as their representative.
Hocker, a local businessman, was born in Lewes and grew up in Millville. After graduating from college, he took an offer he couldn’t refuse from his uncle, to go into business for himself. He married his wife, Emily, while attending the University of Delaware, and they had their first child on the day of his last final exam.
“That’s a story in itself,” he said. “My professor knew I’d have to miss the test, and he said, ‘Well, you’d have to get 100 to get an ‘A,’ and you’d have to flunk pretty bad to get a ‘C,’ will you settle for your ‘B?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I will,’” he recalled, laughing.
It’s being able to see the big picture and participate in negotiations like that that have helped him with some of his proudest accomplishments at the state legislature these past six years.
Having dealt with major frustrations working with state transportation officials in 1998 over wanting to redesign the Routes 26 and 17 retail corner, where one of his businesses resides, Hocker decided he would be the change he wanted to see and run for the state senate. He ran in 2000 and was defeated by Sen. George Howard Bunting. Hocker said he is proud to say that he ran a clean campaign and that the two remain friends today. But he wasn’t deterred in his quest to represent the area in the state legislature. He ran against Shirley Price for the House of Representatives in 2002, narrowly defeating her.
Hocker said the Ocean View Leisure Center is one of his proudest accomplishments. He had been letting the center use some of his space near his store on Cedar Neck Road and what was supposed to be a one- or two-year agreement turned into seven.
“I was happy to do it, for them to be able to use that place rent-free, to show appreciation to the community for how they treated Emily and I,” he said.
Before he was sworn to elected office the first time, he met with the developer of a location the OVLC was interested in using for a permanent location – a meeting that had eluded the leisure center for some time. Hocker then negotiated a deal on the center’s present-day location.
Another project he is proud of is the dredging of the Assawoman Canal, now in its final stages, after years of delay while the dredge project was held up in court by opponents.
A third project he has worked tirelessly on is obtaining a bill to create licensing for dentists who retire to Delaware that would allow them to volunteer their time at Sussex Smiles, a dental clinic for low-income adults ages 18-64. While a compromise bill was passed this year, with Hocker as the driving force behind it, Sussex Smiles has since stopped its operation, saying the compromise bill fell short of what they needed but thanking Hocker for his efforts.
“I was so sorry,” said Hocker, speaking of the demise of Sussex Smiles. “But, I worked with legislators on a bill I thought we could all live with. We got a grant to study the needs of Sussex and Kent counties and, even though they decided to dissolve, I am still working with the Paula Roy of the state health department and the Dental Society to make sure we have a dental clinic in Sussex County. Now, we have a licensed dentist willing to be involved as the supervising dentist.”
Hocker also successfully fought for Delaware to not be only one of two states in the U.S. with no veterans’ home.
“A lot of people take credit for that, but I was the representative that brought then-Secretary Anthony Principi here for a town meeting and made a presentation to the General Assembly. That day, he committed to federal funds for a veterans’ home, located in Milford, which has now been open a year,” he shared proudly.
Other bills he is currently working on include a National Association of Retired Federal Employees (NARFE) bill that would allow federal workers hired prior to 1984 to be treated more equally when it comes to their retirement savings plan. As it stands today, those workers cannot pay into Social Security but pay into their own retirement plan. Delaware taxes that federal plan, but not Social Security.
Hocker said he hopes that this “fairness issue” can be resolved with help from the new state administration that will come into power in January.
Hocker, with help from Bunting, has also been busy working with Beebe Medical Center on the creation of an expanded south coastal medical facility. Beebe recently purchased 20 acres of land from Millville by the Sea, with plans to build their new medical complex on that parcel off Route 17 instead of on Route 26, as was originally planned. Hocker worked to get special licensing so that the facility can operate as both a summer 24-7 emergency center and a walk-in center the rest of the year.
“The infrastructure is already there,” he said, “and that will be such an asset to the community.”
“Bunting and I work together,” Hocker noted. “We both feel we were elected to work for the people, by the people, not our parties.” Another issue the two worked together on was beach replenishment – something Hocker takes great pride in.
Besides his work on legislative issues, Hocker also founded and has performed in the annual Springtime Jamboree fundraiser for the past 27 years. In the past two years alone, the jamboree has raised more than $50,000 for the Bethany Beach and Millville volunteer fire companies. The jamboree has also pumped countless dollars back into the community via such non-profit organizations as Lower Sussex Little League; the Lord Baltimore, Fenwick Island and Selbyville-Indian River Lions Clubs; Delaware Hospice; Pop Warner Football; and River Soccer Club.
Amidst all that work as a legislator, Hocker has never lost sight of his day job, as owner of his supermarkets and hardware store.
“It takes up a lot of my time,” he said of his legislative duties, “but I always said I wouldn’t neglect my employees and my customers and the business.”
And there’s no question that he hasn’t neglected them. Standing on the stairs leading to his local legislative office, he answers questions such as, “Where is the kitty litter — Have you got any in yet?” and responds to remarks about him looking different in person. And he shares the credit for his success with his assistants and supporters.
“They make me look good — I am only as good as the team around me. The community has been good to me. I am glad to help anybody I can, no matter which party. I do my job not by politics — I’m here to help anyone in the 38th District. For me, it’s less about promises and more about my record.”
Hocker is honorary co-chairman, along with Bunting, for the Friends of South Coastal Library’s Capital Campaign and helped raise the money to build the new library. He served on the FOSCL Board of Directors for three years. He has previously served on the board of directors for the First National Bank of Frankford, Sussex Trust Company, Baltimore Trust Company and Mercantile Peninsula Bank.
He is an honorary member of the Millville Volunteer Fire Company; a recipient of the Melvin Jones Fellow Award from the Lord Baltimore Lions Club – the highest Lions Club honor offered; a recipient of the 1996 Hall of Fame Award from the Bethany-Fenwick Area Chamber of Commerce, for his dedication to serving the business community and 25-year membership in the Chamber of Commerce; and a recipient of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Award.
Hocker has been a member of the Better Business bureau since 1971, a member of the Federation of Independent Business since 1971; and is the spokesperson for United Way-Southeastern Sussex.
In 2007 and 2008, Hocker was the honorary chairperson for the Progress for Prostate Charity Golf Tournament, which benefits Beebe Medical Center’s Free Prostate Screening and Community Awareness Program.
Hocker is currently the chairman of the Energy & Natural Resources Committee in the state House of Representatives and serves on the Economic Development, Banking & Insurance, Transportation, Land Use & Infrastructure, Housing & Community Affairs, Agriculture and Revenue & Finance committees, as well as the Council on Recreational Fishing Funding.
Hocker and his wife, Emily, who live in Ocean View, have five children and seven grandchildren.