Mike Miller, a powerful figure in Maryland politics for nearly a half century, has resigned from the State Senate he once led, citing health reasons.
Miller, 78, presided over the Senate for 33 years, longer than any other state senate president in the nation and longer than some Senators have been alive.
He announced in January 2019 that he had been undergoing treatment for prostate cancer for several months and the following October said he was too weak to continue as Senate President. But he retained his seat representing a district that includes parts of Prince Georges and Calvert counties." class="wysiwyg-break drupal-content" src="/sites/all/modules/contrib/wysiwyg/plugins/break/images/spacer.gif" title="<--break-->">
In a Zoom news conference Wednesday, he said he could no longer handle that job.
"I thought I could continue on," he said. "My mind is fine. But the cancer is in all my bones. My body’s racked with pain and so, as a consequence, physically I’m not able to do the job.”
Miller spoke of the demands on a state Senator from the library of his home overlooking the Chesapeake Bay.
"To be a state senator and to do the job well, you gotta be available 24 hours a day mentally as well as physically able," he said.
During his time in the Senate, Miller developed a reputation as a wily political operator who could make things happen.
Attorney General Brian Frosh, a former Senator who once chaired the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said in an October 2019 interview it was Miller who engineered the Senate's unanimous choice of Bill Ferguson, a much younger Baltimore Senator, to succeed him on the dais.
"That’s an extraordinary achievement," Frosh said. "It says a lot about Bill Ferguson, but it says more about Mike Miller because he was the one who made it happen, who leaves the Democrats united behind a single candidate."
As news of Miller’s resignation leaked out, tributes rolled in from across the political spectrum.
Democratic US Senator Chris Van Hollen, who served two terms in the Maryland Senate with Miller, said in a statement his departure “marks the end of an era.”
“Governors have come and gone, but Senator Miller, with unmatched political acumen, has steered Maryland on a progressive course and toward a more perfect union,” he said.
Republican Governor Larry Hogan said in a statement he has known Miller “since I was a kid,” and that it has been “one of my greatest privileges as governor to serve alongside him.”
The state Democratic Party issued a statement calling Miller “a titan of Maryland” who helped improve the lives of residents “through progressive, yet always pragmatic policies
But Melissa Deckman, a political science professor at Washington College, said in an October 2019 interview, that Miller wasn’t all that progressive. In fact, he was a bit conservative, voting against legalizing same sex marriage and repealing the death penalty, for example. But he didn’t use his power to block those bills.
She called him “very much a pragmatist.”
“And I think he was not willing to kind of get in the way in recognizing that Maryland voters wanted to go in a different direction,” she said.
Like many others, she said Miller has been part of the Maryland Senate and political scene for so long, it’s hard to imagine it without him.
Senate President Fergusonsaid he has mixed emotions. He’s sad about the resignation but sees it as an “opportunity to celebrate somebody who spent 50 years in public service.”
“While his career is ending, I think his legacy will certainly last for generations,” Ferguson said.
In the news conference, Miller said he was proud of establishing a Senate where Republicans got a fair shake, despite their distinct minority status in Maryland.
“All 47 senators are treated equally, regardless of political party and regardless of where they came from in terms of geography,” he said. “And I think that’s my legacy.”
He said the one thing he wants the General Assembly to do in the session that starts next month is to find a way to pass the Kirwan plan for improving education in Maryland and to pay for it.