THE LAST DEMOCRAT: Maryland’s keeper of sanity in Free State politics was Mike Miller

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  • Senate President Mike Miller with Maryland Governor Larry Hogan at a bill signing.

Letter from Senate President Mike Miller to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on the removal of Chief Justice Roger Brooke Taney Statue from Maryland State House 

The Last Democrat in Maryland

By Ken Rossignol

THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY

For much of the time over the past few decades, Maryland politics has taken a decidedly left turn with the Democratic Party entirely governed by the far-left. Keeping the Democrats from completely taking leave of common sense through these changes was Mike Miller. 

Some have called him the Lion of the Senate, which is quite an insult when taking into consideration that the term was used to describe Ted Kennedy – a fellow who had little in common with the strong personal traits of Mike Miller.  

There is a better term to describe the now-departed barrister and lawmaker. Mike Miller was the keeper of sanity in Maryland government.  There should be a term for this critical distinction. However, there is so little sanity in politics it appears that an official designation for that vital post has yet to be coined.

It can be argued by conservatives – none of whom still identify with the Maryland Democratic Party – that Senator Miller had taken leave of his senses as he earned an “F” designation from the National Rifle Association by shepherding through strict handgun carry laws.  Most centrist and conservative Democrats in Maryland have either changed to Republican, moved to Delaware or Florida, or, like Mike, died.

Mike Miller was pragmatic and sensible. God knows he was patient too when he had to find ways to corral the extreme left of his party in Montgomery County and the intensely rambunctious elements in PG and Baltimore City to achieve enough unity to pass a budget and keep the State of Maryland running efficiently.  In the last few years, Miller began to lose essential allies in the commonsense arena with Mike Busch’s death and the election defeat of Mac Middleton.   

Mike Miller’s pal Steny Hoyer preceded him as Senate President, a position that Hoyer gave up for being the running mate of Acting Governor Blair Lee III.

When the Lee-Hoyer ticket lost to Harry Hughes in the Democratic primary in 1978, Miller won the support of his fellow Democrats to take over the post of Senate President in 1979 and stayed there until he voluntarily surrendered the position of senate president two months before the start of the General Assembly session of 2020 due to his declining health.  He remained as a Senator representing Calvert and PG County until December 23, 2020.

There were six occupants of the Governor’s Mansion while Mike was Senate President. With Harry Hughes elected in 1978 as Governor, likely the last chief executive to come from the Eastern Shore, followed by the temperamental but effective former Baltimore Mayor Don Schaefer; the philandering Parris Glendening; Bob Ehrlich the first Republican governor since Ted Agnew; the preening Martin O’Malley and then serving through six years with Republican Larry Hogan – Mike Miller perfected the art of moderation. He was a master at appearing as though he perfectly understands the legislative goals of the governor while knowing the limits that sane rules and budget realism has with the senate members.  Only Mike Miller knew for sure how challenging his task was, but he made it look easy.

In a culture of corruption in Maryland, Mike Miller kept his hands in his own pockets instead of fleecing the taxpayers. That wasn’t true when it came to nearly two dozen Democrat politicians in Maryland who were convicted of bribery and theft, most of them from Baltimore City and Prince Georges County. The GOP had a few doozies too, but they were on their own team.

 His ability to raise campaign funds for the challenging races for his senate caucus majority helped him muster the votes he needed to pass bills through the Senate.  They won their races, and he collected their votes in the Senate.

The traditional Democratic Party of union members started to unravel in the past twenty-five years when President Ronald Reagan won Maryland in 1984 by five points. President George H. W. Bush won in 1988. Republicans won the Governor’s mansion in 2002, 2014, and again in 2018.

Undoubtedly many of the liberal democrats in Maryland would have been happy to see Miller act to undercut Governor Larry Hogan, but that wasn’t Mike Miller’s style.  Forging a good working relationship with Hogan, Miller proved that he could see that the guy the people of Maryland twice elected as their choice for Governor was his working partner in governance.  Miller understood politics and commonsense approaches to solving problems.

Miller forged a close friendship with Democrat President Bill Clinton, who carried Maryland in 1992 and 1996 and brought the president to his hometown of Clinton, Maryland, for a rally at the fire department, within walking distance of the original B. K. Miller store.  

Mike could have been governor of Maryland had he wanted, but he saw the need for an efficient and responsive state government and made that job number one. In return, he didn’t have to kick the bucket to get a State Senate Office Building named after him, which happened more than twenty years ago – the Miller Erection.  In Annapolis, politicians knew to provide their loyalty to Miller, and in return, he would see to it that the projects vital to them in their home districts would get attention and projects funded.

A competent criminal defense attorney, Miller’s law firm, was busy with Clinton and Dunkirk offices, and he made life-long clients his eternal friends and political base. Miller didn’t have to go out during campaigns to find the ‘little people.’ They were already with him. Instead, it was the elite of his party that sought him to have his support.

With his family home situated on one of the best vistas overlooking the Chesapeake Bay at the former Camp Roosevelt, it provided him a daily perspective of Maryland’s real geographic heart and an environmental treasure.   

With about a million people and a big load of legislative honchos representing them, Montgomery County still fails to cast any tall shadows in politics with Comptroller Peter Franchot’s notable exception. 

Franchot has been building the persona and pedigree of an actual state-wide political figure rather than the batty and ding-a-ling types of fringe politicos typically arising from Montgomery – remarkable in itself since Franchot’s roots in Takoma Park were all on the left side of the tree.  

When Franchot whipped the fading political powerhouse William Donald Schaefer in the 2006 Democratic Primary, he shed his old limousine liberal Democratic cloak. He shifted to adopt a moderate and frugal stance exhibited by the two seasoned comptrollers before him, Louis Goldstein and Schaefer.  Franchot will likely be the next Governor of Maryland.

Coming out of the Prince Georges County Democrat political machine, Miller and his compatriot Steny Hoyer ascended to Senate President’s position where either one could have become governor. While Miller opted to be the mover and shaker of Annapolis, Hoyer set his eye on becoming Speaker of the House in DC.  Hoyer is close but likely won’t get a cigar as the GOP may again take over as the majority in 2022 unless Nancy Pelosi suddenly retires.  

Relating Maryland’s history would be precisely what Mike Miller would tell me to do, were he able.

The link at the top of this article takes the reader to a letter he penned to Governor Hogan. When the statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney was hustled off of the State House lawn in the dead of night, much like a wagon load of Gypsies absconding before the Sheriff could catch up with them, his words speak for themselves.

After I posted his letter to Hogan on THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY website, Mike sent me a note of thanks.  All he said was: “Wow!”

In reality, the wow belonged to his effort; for the first time, he put the truth out about Taney’s legal career that as a lawyer, Taney helped the abolition movement and put the infamous decision into perspective – facts and viewpoints that most folks were not knowledgeable about.   

Mike Miller was just not a knee-jerk kind of politician.  For all the squawking that the liberal left like to do, most of their agenda over the past twenty to thirty years could never have been accomplished if Miller had not made it happen.

Running a news desk sometimes is an all-night endeavor. Not long ago, at 3:44 am, Mike sent me this message: “Loved the crab feasts as well as your friendship!”

 Mike made a fiery guest speaker at our annual picnic who always knew to hit the high notes and then turn things over to the band.

The best way to end this Memoriam to Mike Miller is to let him have the last word. Mike wrote this on his website:

“It remains the greatest honor of my life to serve our community in the Maryland Senate. If I can ever be of assistance to you, I hope you will not hesitate to call on me.”

– Senator Mike Miller

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