Since the early 1970’s, Maryland’s political issues and the legislators who have debated them have changed dramatically. While some issues like protecting the Chesapeake Bay and improving the State’s public schools remain priorities, others like the legalization of slots, decriminalization of marijuana, and the legalization of gay marriage no longer remain hot button issues. Throughout the many changes in policy, priorities, and legislators, there has been one constant in the Maryland General Assembly. Senate President Thomas “Mike” Miller (D-27 Calvert, Charles & Prince George’s Counties) has been a key voice in the legislature and a respected leader in Maryland State politics since 1971. Regardless of his position on certain legislation, President Miller is revered for his integrity, bipartisanship, and commitment to advocating on behalf of Maryland’s underserved citizens. I had the honor of speaking with the longest serving Senate President in Maryland’s history and learning about both his background and legacy in the Maryland General Assembly.
President Miller was born in Clinton, MD, a southern region inside of Prince George’s County. As the oldest of ten children, President Miller demonstrated leadership and the ability to compromise from an early age. As a child, President Miller attended Prince George’s county public schools and developed a strong interest in history. Observing his grandfather, he became similarly interested in government. President Miller’s grandfather was heavily involved with government and politics and would often host campaign events at his house for candidates seeking Statewide office. President Miller recalls growing up in the constant presence of prominent elected officials and candidates. Speaking fondly of his interactions with political figures as a child, President Miller said that politics gave him an opportunity to combine his passion for history with his love for government. “My role models were great people in history,” says President Miller. “I enjoyed reading and studying history and politics gives you an opportunity to live history.” As such, President Miller developed a strong desire to get involved in politics and a strong desire to begin writing his own chapter in history.
President Miller’s introduction to politics was gradual and unglamorous. Eager to be immerse himself in any capacity, President Miller accepted a job as a driver for Gubernatorial candidate Frank Small. At just eighteen years old, President Miller was fascinated by every aspect of his job and still appreciates the valuable experience he received at such a young age. Following college at the University of Maryland College Park, President Miller attended the University of Maryland School of Law where he served as a law clerk and eventually took a job in Annapolis as a bill drafter. While working in Annapolis, President Miller became enamored with every aspect of the State government. He developed a strong admiration for both the legislators and the essential staff members who help them serve the State. After only six months as a bill drafter, President Miller was confident that he was ready to enter the legislature and decided he would run for the Maryland House of Delegates. In 1971, President Miller was elected to the House and only four years later, President Miller was elected to the State Senate. In 1987, due to his hard work and the respect he had gained from his peers, President Miller was elected to serve as the Maryland General Assembly’s 85th Senate President.
In his twenty-nine years in the legislature, Senate President Miller has learned countless valuable lessons. Among them is, “You have to love what your doing. You have to want to do what you’re doing. When you help people, its got to be because you love them, not because you have to help them and it’s the right thing to do.” In President Miller’s view, the best way for him to legislate is to combine his religious beliefs with his legislative and political views. Using the State budget to further elaborate, President Miller stated, “For example, what the budget is all about is morally what your about. It’s what the State is all about. Who are the State’s priorities? Who should the State be helping? All you have to do is look at the beatitudes and the sermon on the mount and see what’s the right thing to do. Not just in life but in government as well.” Furthermore, President Miller believes it is important to treat his colleagues in the legislature equally and fully assess the facts of each situation before making any decisions. Using the principles of equality and his desire to advocate for the less fortunate throughout the State, President Miller boasts a lofty amount of groundbreaking legislative achievements.
During his tenure, President Miller has led the fight to help improve Maryland’s public school education. President Miller’s 1998 legislation, the School Accountability Funding for Excellence (SAFE) Act, has been responsible for providing essential funding for low income students throughout the State. In addition, the legislation has led to the construction of new school libraries and the maintenance of some of Maryland’s oldest public schools. In 2002, President Miller helped spearhead legislation calling for the State’s record investment in public schools. Thanks in large part to this investment, Maryland has improved test scores, narrowed the achievement gap, and raised the pay of teachers throughout the State. Just recently in 2013, President Miller helped the State secure close to $1 billion to replace and repair aging school buildings throughout Baltimore City.
President Miller’s commitment to making higher education more accessible has been equally impressive throughout his career. A product of the University of Maryland System, President Miller knows firsthand how important and effective the State’s schools are. As a result, President Miller has led the way to make higher education more affordable for citizens throughout the State. President Miller has supported tuition freezes at public universities and pushed the Maryland Higher Education Investment plan, which provides tax advantages through either prepaid tuition or a higher education savings plan. President Miller’s work with community colleges has also lead to increased per pupil funding. Thanks in large part to the help of President Miller and others, Maryland has risen from the 7th most expensive State in the Nation for higher education to the 26th.
President Miller has also greatly contributed to the modernization of the State’s Family and Divorce law. He was responsible for introducing legislation providing woman equal bargaining power during divorce settlements. Prior to the legislation, Maryland was a strict title State. As such, a husband who had a house, IRA, or vehicle in his name did not have to divide those assets with his spouse during divorce. President Miller’s legislation gave judges the power to consider the division of marital assets and include a spouses’ contribution when making marital awards. Furthermore, judges were given the latitude to consider fault as a factor in making a marital award. Despite these legislative accomplishments, Senator Thomas Mike Miller will most likely be most widely known for his long reign as Maryland’s State Senate President.
President Miler is aware that his role as Senate President is the opportunity of a lifetime. Speaking of his tenure as President, he confessed, “Life is about luck, opportunity, timing, chance. This job came about and was offered to me.” Twenty-nine years later, President Miller is the longest serving Senate President in Maryland’s history and the longest serving State Senate President in the United States. President Miller equates his role in the legislature as that of a chief executive of a major company. Speaking of his role, his says, “You will name people brighter than yourself to manage. You pick the brightest people in the room, the hardest working people, and the honest people to be the Chairmen of the committees. You assign the bills to them and you let the power come from the floor to you.” By not dictating or forcing legislators to take certain positions, President Miller believes the political process is properly carried out. He also believes in the importance of Republicans and Democrats working together on behalf of the State’s interests. With a Republican Governor in his 2nd year, President Miller’s role in the Senate is even more vital. He remains committed to limiting partisan politics and doing everything he can to “make sure everybody has a seat at the table”.
Despite President Miller’s service to the State of Maryland for close to thirty years, he remains as enthusiastic and energetic as ever. This energy was readily apparent by how eagerly he discussed his 2016 legislative plans. These plans include advocating that students with significant loan debt from college receive tax credits and parents who invest money into savings plans for their children receive matching funds. Despite his tremendous power and influence, President Miller remains as committed to Maryland’s citizens as he was when he first joined the House of Delegates. President Miller said that he loves to read about history and the politics which have allowed individuals to become part of it. President Miller’s chapter in history has been both extraordinary and compelling. Only time will tell how many more pages are added to his remarkable story.
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