Senate Minority Leader E.J. Pipkin announced Monday he would retire from the legislature next week and move to Texas to pursue a graduate degree in sports management.
Pipkin, 56, served as Republican's chief debater in the Maryland Senate, leading opposition in recent years to the state's new gun-control law, legalization of same-sex marriage, repeal of the death penalty and off-shore wind program.
The former investment banker was first elected to the legislature in 2002, knocking of a Democrat and incumbent chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, Pipkin's chief of staff John Fiastro said.
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The Eastern Shore Republican, known for his sharp and frequently cleverly put criticisms of the Democrat-controlled legislature, will move to Dallas next week. He has been accepted to a graduate program at Southern Methodist University.
Pipkin could not immediately be reached for comment, but leaders on both sides of the aisle lamented his departure.
"E.J. Pipkin was a force of his own," said Senate Minority Whip Ed Reilly, an Anne Arundel County Republican. "He was probably the finest debater of issues in my four years of the senate. It's going to create a huge void in our caucus because very few people have the oratory skills of E.J."
Sen. Jamie Raskin, a Montgomery County Democrat, squared off on the senate floor against Pipkin on same-sex marriage and death penalty repeal and said that Pipkin "made the Republican politics of Senate interesting."
"There's a searing intellectual honesty about him," Raskin added.
Pipkin at times joined forces with liberal lawmakers on consumer issues. He won his seat defeating veteran Sen. Walter M. Baker, knocking of an influential Democrat Sen. President Thomas V. Mike Miller said he considered "one of my best friends."
More than a decade later, Miller said Monday he told Pipkin he'd be missed, and he too had become a friend.
"He's a very unique individual, a blue-collar guy from Dundalk who made a fortune on Wall Street," Miller said. "He turned into a Republican, and an environmentalist at the same time. He campaigned in a pick-up truck and made people on the Eastern Shore feel like he was one of them."
Pipkin released a statement that "I will carry with me both the bitter and sweet memories of the past eleven years," adding that he resigned now to give his Republican successor a chance be in office before the 2014 election.