A Crofton Democrat running for the House of Delegates hopes to make incumbent Republican Elizabeth S. Smith's personal wealth an issue in the Nov. 6 general election.
Bill D. Burlison, who won a seat on the Anne Arundel County Democratic Central Committee in last week's primary, kicked off his bid for one of three House of Delegates seats, attacking Smith's multimillion dollar fortune during a press conference yesterday morning.
He also criticized Smith's record -- and outlined his own positions -- on the environment, property tax reform, and women's issues.
"It's shocking that we have a millionaire legislator that personally trades over a million dollars in stocks and a million dollars in corporate bonds during the legislation session," said Burlison, referring to financial disclosure statements Smith filed with the state last spring.
Burlison said Smith's wealth and the strong support she receives from the business community create the appearance of a conflict of interest. In an annual survey conducted by Maryland Business for Responsive Government, Smith consistently ranks among the most pro-business lawmakers.
Burlison, a defense attorney who has borrowed $86,500 from himself since 1985 to finance his political campaigns, said Smith should either sell off her assets or place them in blind trust. He said he would do the same with his own stocks and bonds, if he is elected.
A former U.S. representative from Missouri, Burlison said he hopes to unseat Smith, who is seeking her fifth four-year term and was the top vote-getter in the Republican primary.
"He's shooting for the top, isn't he?" said Smith, who was contacted by a reporter yesterday afternoon.
Smith, who made her fortune when she sold her network of radio and cable TV stations in the early 1980s, said her personal finances should not be an issue. "If we had to have blind trusts, then we wouldn't have financial disclosures," she said.
Smith, who has complained about the detailed financial information that elected officials must release, said, "I'm not going to say anything more about my personal finances. If he wants to bring it up again, he can talk about it by himself."
Smith and Burlison are two of six candidates -- including Delegates John Gary, R-Millersville, and Marsha G. Perry, D-Crofton -- vying for three delegate seats. The others are Crownsville Republican Edwin Edel and Severna Park Democrat Sabine Bosma, both making their first bids for elected office.
Burlison, who lost his bid for a delegate seat four years ago, said he singled out Smith because she seemed the most vulnerable on the issues. Turning to the environment, Burlison said conservation groups have rated Smith's record near the bottom of all Anne Arundel County lawmakers.
And, he said, "Delegate Smith has failed to address the environmental issue of the decade, maybe the century, for our county." Burlison identified that as the possible construction of a new Washington, D.C., bypass through Anne Arundel.
Burlison said he would use his past friendships with the Democratic leaders in Congress to direct the bypass west of Washington and not east. He said building a bypass through Anne Arundel, which already must cope with beach-bound traffic, would be unfair.
Smith countered that she received an "average" score in the rankings released last month by the League of Conservation Voters, a coalition of environmental groups.
According to the league's report card, she voted with environmentalists slightly less than half the time and received the same ranking as Delegates John Astle, D-Annapolis, and Charles W. "Stokes" Kolodziejski. With a perfect voting record on issues important to the environmentalists, Perry was ranked the highest among Anne Arundel's 13 delegates.
And Smith said she believes the D.C. bypass can be stopped. "Do I have a plan?" she said. "No, I'm not a wizard. But if enough of us get behind stopping it, it can be stopped."
Burlison said he can do better than Smith on women's issues, such as abortion rights, and on property tax reform. Smith favors restricting abortion; Burlison supports abortion rights.
Smith said she helped pass a 15 percent cap, and then last spring, a 10 percent cap on property tax assessment increases. She said Burlison's proposed 3 percent cap is unwise because it would overly restrict the county's ability to raise tax money.