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Mike Miller, Longtime Senate President, Dies

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Rachel Baye
/
WYPR

Former Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller, Jr., a potent force in Maryland politics for half a century and the longest serving state senate president in US history, died Friday after a two-year battle with prostate cancer. He was 78.

Miller, who stepped down as Senate President in 2019 because of his failing health and resigned his seat representing parts of Southern Maryland last month, was recognized as a master politician.

"It is impossible to think of the Maryland Senate and not think of Mike — not just because of his historical longevity — but because each member of the Senate has his or her own Mike story," Senate President Bill Ferguson said in a statement.

 

"Whether it’s the Senator who he quietly consoled through family matters, the Senator who he mentored to compromise and pass legislation, or those who experienced the personal care of Mike to truly listen to their concerns. There are thousands of former Senators, Delegates, staffers, and constituents in the 27th District that he has impacted for the better, and who each have their own Mike Miller story."

 

In her statement, House Speaker Adrienne Jones called Miller “a giant and a legend” and said “anyone anywhere with a sense of history or politics will know the name Mike Miller.””,

 

Gov. Larry Hogan referred to Miller as one of Maryland’s “most revered leaders” and “a dear, life-long friend.”

Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh recalled in an October 2019 interview a day when, as a freshman member of the House of Delegates, he was trying to get Miller’s support for a bill he was trying to shepherd through the legislature. It didn’t go well.

“I walk out of his office. The knife is still sticking out of my back. I know my bill is dead,” Frosh said. “I know I've been handled. And I still am thinking to myself, well, he killed my bill, but what a nice guy.,”

Frosh, who later served 20 years in the Senate, 12 as head of the Judicial Proceedings Committee, said Miller always had a knack for getting the pulse of the Senate.

“He could tell where every senator was going to vote before some of the senators knew that was the way they were going to vote, and he had a personal relationship with every single member.” Frosh said. “He knew who they were married to, he knew who their kids were, he knew where they went to school.”

Though he was more conservative than many of his members, Miller presided over a Senate that repealed Maryland’s death penalty, legalized same sex marriage and passed some of the toughest gun control measures in the nation.

In a news conference announcing his resignation last month 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.”

Miller, the oldest of 10 children, grew up in Clinton, Maryland, where his family ran a grocery store. He  entered the House of Delegates in 1971 and the Senate in 1975 and became Senate President in 1987. When he stepped down, his colleagues named him Senate President Emeritus.

Robert Neall, a former state health secretary, former Republican senator and long-time friend, said Miller’s self-deprecating personality was an element of his success.

“A lot of people saw the awe shucks, southern Maryland, good old boy, hail fellow, well met,” Neall said. “He was probably the smartest and shrewdest person I’ve ever encountered in my life.  But he operated behind that façade.  He had more gears than a semi transmission and he would use it in order to get his way.”

Damian O’Doherty, a staffer for former Gov. Martin O’Malley who got his first job in the state house through Miller, said part of his success was the way he treated his staff.

“He was one of the first people to appoint women to the highest staff roles in the General Assembly, and now Vicky Gruber who was his chief of staff runs the entire legislative staff for the General Assembly,” he said.

And Miller, when he announced his cancer diagnosis in the Senate,  said he always had the best staff.

“Anyway,” he said, choking up, “the body’s given me the opportunity to name the best people.”

Miller is survived by his wife, Patti, son Tommy, daughters, Amanda, Michelle, Melissa, and Melanie, five sisters, three brothers and 15 grandchildren.

 
 
 
 
 

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