Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh was a member of the State Senate from 1995 to 2015, working closely with Senate President Thomas V. “Mike” Miller on some of the most defining issues affecting Marylanders — from protecting the environment to the death penalty. Miller died on Jan. 15 from cancer, and Baltimore Fishbowl asked Frosh, a prior chairman of the Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee, to recount some of his memories of working with Miller over decades.
My first real meeting with Mike Miller was about 30 years ago. I was a lowly delegate. He was President of the Senate.
I had a very controversial bill. It would have had Maryland adopt California’s vehicle emission standards. To the shock – and horror – of the House leadership, it passed the House of Delegates by one vote.
I got an immediate call from Sen. Gerald Winegrad [an Anne Arundel Democrat and environmental leader]. He told me to go see Mike Miller right away. He said that the President could assign the bill to the Education and Environmental Affairs Committee (EEA) or the Judicial Proceedings Committee (JPR). If it went to EEA. Winegrad could get it through. If it went to JPR, it was dead.
I called Miller’s office. To my surprise I got an appointment that afternoon. I arrived eager, but nervous. I told President Miller that the bill would clean up the air, prevent illnesses and deaths, help clean the Chesapeake Bay, and it wouldn’t cost consumers anything extra. I asked that he assign it to EEA.
Mike put his arm around me. He said: “Brian, under our rules, I had to assign it to JPR. But it sounds like you’ve got a great bill. Let me know what I can do to help.”
I walked down the hall, the knife sticking out of my back, thinking: “he just killed my bill, but what a nice guy.”
Mike was able to remain Senate President for as long as he chose. Other senators came and went. The body shifted leftward and Mike ended up on the conservative end of the Democratic spectrum, but he persevered. He was re-elected every year because of his colossal talent and his mastery of retail politics.
Mike had extraordinary emotional intelligence. He knew what his members wanted, and he knew what motivated them. He knew if they cared about a special office, a committee assignment, an opportunity to travel, a pet bill or project. He knew who could be moved by flattery, by attention or by sheer force of will. He deployed his charm, his humor, his wisdom and, occasionally, a raised voice to “help” his colleagues see the light.
What Mike understood was that every bill affected every person differently. He understood the impact of one vote on twenty other issues, and on forty-seven senators. He knew what to push, how to push, and on what issue. He could keep all those balls in the air, and he knew where they were going to land.
In the late 1990s, Mike was very much in favor of electric utility deregulation. I was opposed to it.
The opposition was not strong enough to kill the bill outright. But we put together an amendment that was so distasteful to utilities and electricity generators that they considered it a poison pill. It had a little something for everyone: energy conservation, assistance for low income families, etc. The amendment passed. It had around 26 votes, a solid majority of the Senate. Then, the bill tanked.
The next session, Mike brought the bill back. The previous sponsor of the amendment told me, “You know what, Brian — I can’t introduce the amendment, but don’t worry, I’m with you.”
This time, I introduced the amendment. It got 10 or 12 votes. Mike had worked the entire year to build support for the bill. It was like getting hit by a freight train. It didn’t even slow down.
The moral of the story was that occasionally you might be able to win a battle against Mike. But nobody ever won the war against Mike Miller in his Senate.
In 2002, there was a massive turnover in the Senate. Many members were running for higher office. Some were retiring, and some were defeated. During the summer, Mike asked me to come to Annapolis. I had no idea why. He said “Brian, when we come back in January, I want you to be majority leader.” I was caught by surprise. I thanked him, and without thinking, I said: “If Walter Baker [the Cecil County Democrat who was a longtime committee chairman] loses, could I be chairman of Judiciary Proceedings?”
Mike paused. He looked bemused and said, “OK.” Baker did lose, which disappointed Mike. But he kept his promise.
Mike Miller was a leader in every sense of the word. In the Senate, he demanded civility and respect for every member. He was tolerant of dissent, especially because he usually had the votes.
He worked across the aisle. He fought for issues that were toxic for him in his district, because he believed Maryland needed them. He cobbled coalitions together. He fought for his own initiatives and rarely failed.
Mike Miller has left a legacy that will likely never be matched. He was the Master of the Senate to such an extent Lyndon Johnson would have found a lot to admire – and to learn.