Cecil County's growing pains were becoming almost unmanageable by the winter of 2003. The pace of home construction was threatening the government's ability to provide basic services, such as water and sewer lines.
The county commissioners had what they thought was a solution: ask their state legislators for a bill establishing a 1 percent tax on real estate sales. It was a common practice, even on Maryland's tax-averse Eastern Shore.
Sen. E.J. Pipkin's anti-tax theme is one of several basic messages he has tried to convey in his U.S. Senate race against Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski in Maryland.
(Marvin Joseph - The Washington Post)
Born: Nov. 1, 1956, Baltimore.
Education: BA, Roanoke College, 1978; MBA, University of Virginia, 1982.
Career: Bond trader on Wall Street; state senator (R-Queen Anne's).
Family: Married, three children.
Campaign theme: "I don't believe that we have a revenue problem in government. I think we have a spending and how we spend problem."
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But the Cecil commissioners ran into a major obstacle: state Sen. E.J. Pipkin (R-Queen Anne's). His opposition helped ensure that the measure never made it to the floor of the General Assembly. Nearby, in Caroline County, Pipkin lobbied against a bipartisan excise tax bill that would have paid for a new boiler in an aging high school. The bill was approved anyway. He said there were other ways to finance both efforts.
Pipkin's hard anti-tax line in Annapolis was a rough draft of the message he is bringing to voters in his U.S. Senate race against Democrat Barbara A. Mikulski: that the three-term incumbent has made a career of voting for higher taxes, more than 350 times. Mikulski says that number is a gross exaggeration.
"I believe that the money you make is yours to keep and that we have to take a little bit of it to service the government," Pipkin, 47, said in a recent interview. "Barbara Mikulski's view is that the money you make is the government's money, and she lets you keep a little bit of it."
Pipkin, the son of a Dundalk cafeteria worker and an electrician at Bethlehem Steel, made millions on Wall Street selling high-risk "junk bonds." He has poured more than $1 million of his own money into the race, triggering the so-called millionaire's amendment in the federal campaign finance law that allows Mikulski to solicit more funds from individual donors. Mikulski has raised more than $5 million. The campaign has become among the most expensive in Maryland history.
Pipkin's anti-tax theme is the most prominent of several basic messages he has tried to convey to voters this year.
He describes himself as a pro-environment, pro-military, anti-abortion Republican. Democrats like Mikulski have opposed federal judicial nominees, he says, because they think the jurists are "too religious."
Pipkin is waging his fight in a state where Democrats lead 2 to 1 among registered voters. Although a recent poll has him trailing Mikulski by as much as 20 percentage points, some Democrats think he has started to gain ground. The catalyst might have been a tough series of television ads launched last month that attack Mikulski for votes supporting taxes and opposing military spending. Through it all, Pipkin suggests that Mikulski is not who the voters think she is, but is a free-spending liberal who doesn't have their concerns at heart.
"Who knew?" the ads say.
Mikulski has fired back, asserting that Pipkin used procedural votes and Republican-sponsored "poison pill" amendments to distort her voting record on taxes. She describes his platform as "radical, right-wing kind of accusations" and "a cookie-cutter campaign right out of the Republican playbook."
The final results will be studied closely by elected officials in both parties who want to analyze changes in Maryland's political landscape since Republican Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s election in 2002. A stronger-than-expected showing by Pipkin would buoy Republican hopes that momentum from Ehrlich's upset win over Democratic Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend can be carried into 2006.
Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. (D-Calvert), who campaigned against Pipkin two years ago in his successful bid to unseat state Sen. Walter Baker, said Pipkin is a formidable foe. "He is a very bright person. He has his own money, his own ideas, and he got there without help from anybody," Miller said.
"I have told the Mikulski folks not to take him for granted. He will spend a lot of money and work tirelessly. He is going to get a very big vote."