The surprise retirement of Senate Minority Leader E. J. Pipkin has set up a succession scramble for his Upper Eastern Shore seat that is shaping up as a possibly brutal internal struggle among 36th District Republicans.
The three GOP delegates from that district -- all of whom have expressed an interest in the seat -- were scheduled to meet Wednesday night to discuss their plans. Other Republican candidates are also moving to enter the contest to fill out the remaining year and a half of Pipkin's term -- a decision that will be made by the Republican central committees of the four Eastern Shore counties that make up the 36th.
“Here’s the bottom line: Everyone’s coming out of the woodwork to run,” said Cecil County Republican Del. Michael D. Smigiel, Sr. “It's easier to tell you who's not running than who is.”
Smigiel said he will be one of those candidates. His colleague from Kent County, Del. Jay Jacobs, said he too is considering a bid to be named as Pipkin's replacement.
"I've has a lot of calls from a lot of people in the district" encouraging him to run, Jacobs said.
Del. Steve Hershey and former Del. Richard Sossi, both from Queen Anne's County and bitter rivals from the 2010 primary, have also been reported to be interested. Neither could be reached Wednesday afternoon to comment.
Other candidates could emerge from county government. Steve Arentz, president of the Queen Anne's Board of Commissioners, said he may try to succeed Pipkin. Caroline County Republicans, disgruntled because they don't have a resident legislator, could use their leverage in an attempt to either gain the Senate seat or replace one of the current delegates.
The next senator will be chosen by the central committees of Cecil, Kent, Caroline and Queen Anne's counties -- if they can reach a consensus. If they deadlock on Pipkin's successor, it could be left to Gov. Martin O'Malley to choose among the Republicans whose names are put forward. Whoever gets the nod could face a GOP primary challenge in 2014.
Smigiel said that he expects to run in the primary if he is passed over by the central committees. Arentz said he would run in the primary if chosen by the central committee and doesn't know what he will do if he is passed over.
The vacancy could set up a bitter internal struggle between Republicans loyal to U.S. Rep. Andrew P. Harris, a Republican whose First District includes the Eastern Shore, and those aligned with Pipkin and Smigiel. The two factions have been waging what amounts to an intra-party war over control of Republican central committees in Maryland.
Smigiel suspects the Democrats will fight hard in 2014 to regain the seat, which Pipkin wrestled from veteran Democrat Sen. Walter M. Baker in the 2002 election.
Baker, who died in 2012, was chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and close friend of Sen. President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller. Smigiel, who noted that Miller is known for helping guide cash to candidates in competitive races, predicted that Republicans will need someone familiar with District 36 voters if they hope to hold the seat.
“You're going to put in one year, and then Mike Miller's going to put in $100,000, and kick you out,” Smigiel said.
Pipkin, meanwhile, said he chose to retire with a year left in his term in order to give his successor a better chance in the 2014 elections.
Asked who he would endorse, Pipkin said: “In my mind, Del. Mike Smigiel. He has served with me, he’s extremely experienced, he's very passionate, he does his homework, and he's very capable. But that's not really up to me to decide.”
Pipkin's retirement assures that at least one-third of the Republicans now in the Senate caucus will not be back in 2015. Sens. Allen Kittleman of Howard and Barry Glassman of Harford are running for county executive. Sen. Nancy Jacobs of Harford will retire after the 2014 election.
The Republican caucus is down to 12 members of the 47-member Senate after Miller helped engineer two narrow Democratic take-aways in the 2010 election. The spate of retirements could make it all the more difficult for Republicans to make gains in that chamber.