As the 2016 campaign cycle continues, first time candidates and incumbents alike will utter the same simple phrase, “I am not a politician”. Although seeking political office, many find the need to distance themselves from “politicians” due to the derogatory meaning often associated with the title. But being a politician isn’t necessarily a bad thing according to Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton. Senator Middleton, Chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee, believes many people misunderstand the label or fail to realize what a “politician” really is. As a result Senator Middleton works everyday to change the perception of so called “politicians” in Annapolis. I sat down with the self professed “proud politician” to learn more about his background and get his views on what it means to be a politician who governs effectively in the Maryland General Assembly.
Senator Thomas “Mac” Middleton was born in La Plata, Maryland to a family of farmers. In fact in 1989, the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture recognized Cedar Hill Farm, the family farm Senator Middleton still owns and operates as one that has been in continuous use and ownership since the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. Like the Senator, Middleton’s parents were as much prominent political figures as they were successful farmers. Remembering his childhood, the Senator recalls, “first of all I grew up on a steady diet of politics”. His father was a respected politician and judge of the orphan probate court for 28 years. His mother was the President of the Charles County Democratic Women’s Club which later became the Charles County Democratic Club. Thus for Senator Middleton, it seemed almost destined that he would follow in their footsteps, and enter the political arena where his parents were so well respected. Senator Middleton did exactly that when he joined the Charles County Democratic Club as the Treasurer. By 1976, Senator Middleton was the President of the Charles County Democratic Club and a valued volunteer to numerous political campaigns.
After serving as the Chair of the Charles County Planning Commission from 1981-85, Senator Middleton decided that he wanted to pursue his own political career. In 1986, Senator Middleton ran for Charles County Commissioner alongside his father. This campaign would serve as Senator Middleton’s first and his father’s last political campaign. In what Senator Middleton described as the “best campaign of my life”, he, along with his father, led every district and precinct in the primary election. After serving as County Commissioner for eight years, Senator Middleton decided he wanted to escape the “fishbowl” which was Charles County politics and legislate on a statewide level. However the lessons he learned as a public servant on the local level remained with him. “I want to be a voice for people who don’t have a strong voice” says Middleton. Keeping this goal in mind, he ran for and was elected to the Maryland State Senate in 1995. For nearly two decades in Annapolis, he has prided himself on being a politician who is responsive to the needs of his constituents. However to Senator Middleton “politician” is not quite the dirty word title many have come to expect.
“I’m a career politician. I’m not embarrassed or ashamed of it at all”, says Middleton. While this statement may seem bold given the current political climate, in context Senator Middleton’s statement is a testament to what he’s been able to accomplish as a legislator. “I’m a big believer and have a basic philosophy that good government is good politics; so if you do good government the politics will follow” continues Middleton. Thus for Senator Middleton, a politician is an individual dedicated to governing on behalf of all his constituents alike while balancing the special interest of the State. For example, Senator Middleton has long fought to ensure Maryland remains a competitive and attractive State for as many insurance companies as possible. Middleton believes that when there is competition in the market consumers have better choices as to what products they are willing to buy. However Senator Middleton has also fought to make sure consumers are not being disadvantaged by the practices of insurance companies. “Some people think I cater too much to the big corporations, but I do only to the extent that a healthy and prosperous business climate benefits all of us” says Middleton. Thus it’s clear that for Senator Middleton a politician is someone who works to forge compromise that benefits everyone.
In Senator Middleton’s time in the Maryland General Assembly he has forged a lot of compromise and has various notable accomplishments. In the 2014 legislative session Senator Middleton refused to let a minimum wage bill out of the Senate Finance Committee until legislators were willing to address the needs of the direct care workers of the disabled population. He argued that as the frontline individuals who take care of the disabled population tend to be lower income, the General Assembly was responsible for ensuring that their reimbursement rates for this service were increased as well. These are individuals with significant training, performing a task that is essential to Maryland residents, and, therefore, should be compensated a rate higher than minimum wage. Senator Middleton credits getting this bill passed as being one of the proudest moments of his life. In fact, he stated that the awards he most cherishes stem from his work with the mental health and disabled communities. Senator Middleton has also been at the forefront of energy related issues as his legislation was the first to set up Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS). These standards state that utility companies must provide a percentage of its electricity from renewable resources. Additionally, Senator Middleton is proud to be the only full time farmer left in the legislature and the legislator everyone looks to champion the causes of the agricultural community. Senator Middleton has worked with the agricultural community to get people to understand the needs and history behind agriculture and the role it plays in the Maryland economy.
In addition to balancing the needs of the State and his constituents, Senator Middleton believes a politician is an extremely hard worker. He believes that among other things, his role as chairman of the powerful Senate Finance Committee places on him a duty to “get the impossible done”. According to Senator Middleton, getting the impossible done requires more compromise and a determination of whether a law is good public policy or not. Last year Senator Middleton was influential in passing a bill which regulated internet-based transportation companies likeUber and Lyft. At a time when some legislators had given up on the bill, Senator Middleton continued to push his workgroups to come to a solution. At the end of the day Senator Middleton’s persistence paid off as he stated, “I’ve forged a lot of compromises but when you bring people from the extremes to the middle they can live with the results. They typically aren’t in love with the results but this was the first time we did it and ended up with a bill everybody loved”. Senator Middleton believes that because he along with other legislators were determined to get a bill passed Maryland has model legislation when it comes to Uber and Lyft. Furthermore he continues, “Everybody had a place at the table. Everybody was taken seriously and we put in a lot of hard work and determination”.
In the 2016 session of the Maryland General Assembly, Senator Middleton hopes to continue in his role as a successful “politician”. His priority focus as of now is working with a taskforce designed to limit the amount of uninsured motorists throughout the State. He will once again have to work to balance the needs of the underprivileged against insurance corporations as a large number of uninsured motorists are of lower socioeconomic status. Senator Middleton wants to work to ensure that these individuals have affordable coverage, but also wants to make sure the market does not suffer. Senator Middleton will also continue to breakdown the common misconceptions citizens have about politicians. He will, as he does every year, invite a group of young Marylanders to come to Annapolis and shadow him throughout the day. He hopes that through this firsthand and transparent experience the opinions people have of politicians will eventually become more positive. No matter what, it’s clear that Senator Middleton enjoys his work and takes pride in his public service. “I love the other side. I love the politics of public service” says Middleton. Only time will tell if the public perception of “politicians” will change but Senator Middleton will gladly wear the title knowing the battles he fights everyday in Annapolis.
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