ANNAPOLIS – Since 1987, Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. has chaired thousands of meetings, signed numerous pieces of approved legislation, organized debates and pushed for legislation such as a cleaner Chesapeake Bay and more money toward education.
But on Thursday, Miller announced at a news conference in Annapolis that he will step down as the state’s and nation’s longest-serving Senate president.
The venerable senator, 76, who announced in January that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer, said he was in the hospital recently for treatment.
“My mind is still strong, but my body is weak,” Miller said while standing alongside his Democratic Senate colleagues. “I suffer from anemia. I suffer from fatigue. This is a full-time job. This is a statewide job. We need somebody younger and we have those people present in the room.”
His announcement came after the Senate’s Democratic Caucus held a closed-door meeting inside the Senate building renamed after Miller nearly two decades ago. The caucus unanimously nominated his successor, Sen. Bill Ferguson of Baltimore City.
The full Senate, with 32 Democrats and 15 Republicans, must formally vote on the selection when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 8. If chosen, Ferguson would join House Speaker Adrienne Jones of Baltimore County as the two chamber leaders.
Ferguson, 36, an attorney who also worked as a former teacher and remains a strong advocate for education funding. He serves on the Commission on Innovation and Excellence in Education, also known as the Kirwan Commission named after its chair, former University of Maryland System Chancellor William E. “Brit” Kirwan.
“Today and the days ahead are about the unbelievable service of a man who has served the state of Maryland and its people, who has protected the Chesapeake Bay, who has fought for education and opportunity for all Marylanders,” said Ferguson, one of the Senate’s youngest members. “Who has fought for equal justice under law and that individual is Thomas V. Mike Miller.”
Todd Eberly, political science professor at St. Mary’s College in St. Mary’s City, Maryland, said Miller is an institution whose name became synonymous with state politics. The Senate building was renamed after Miller nearly two decades ago.
“He determines who chairs what committee. He has tremendous amount of power that determines what legislation moves forward and what doesn’t,” Eberly said. “He’s been the center of most major pieces of legislation, whether they succeeded or failed, for the past third of a century.”
He said Miller’s decision, coupled with the April death of House Speaker Michael Busch, 72, will markedly change the face of Maryland’s leadership. Busch was first elected to the speaker seat in January 2003 and held the position until his death.
“We’re going into a legislative session next year that will not have either the long-serving leaders,” Eberly said. “In some respects, it’s uncharted territory for us.”
Although both Ferguson and Jones represent the Baltimore area, Eberly said population projections in Baltimore City will decrease and the D.C. suburbs increase by 2030.
“Baltimore is projected to decline between 10 percent to 17 percent during that same period of time. Every round of redistricting is going to allocate representation more and more into the growing parts of the state and less and less in the shrinking parts of the state,” he said. “If you’re losing the number of people representing you, it matters if the folks who do represent you are important, have key positions and good influence.”
Meanwhile, Miller will stay on as a senator representing District 27, which includes parts of Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties.
A member of the Senate since 1975, he grew up in Prince George’s and was a 1960 graduate of Surrattsville High School in Clinton. He joined six other Prince George’s public school alumni this month who were recognized at a Hall of Fame gala at MGM National Harbor.
Several longtime colleagues from Prince George’s said he’ll be just fine sitting on the Senate floor, listening to and participating in debates.
“We had the gavel for 33 years in the Maryland Senate — that is a wonderful legacy that we can build on,” said Sen. Melony Griffith (D-District 25) of Upper Marlboro. “I’m convinced that it’s not who holds the gavel that determines the outcomes of the issues in a state. It’s the embracing of the views of all 47 members in the Senate that will make the state able to move forward on behalf of our citizens. He’s still going to be a viable member of the chamber.”
That’s why Republican colleagues such as Senate Minority Leader J.B. Jennings respected Miller and his decades of information on historical topics.
“It’s institutional knowledge. He knows when we deal with issues that he can bring onto the floor and say, ‘Hey, in 1982 we dealt with this and this is what happened.’ That, we’re going to lose,” said Jennings, who represents portions of Baltimore and Harford counties.
He remains optimistic opposing views will continue to be debated under Ferguson’s leadership.
“I have faith in Sen. Ferguson,” he said.