Maryland State Senator Miller retires, praised as ‘lion of the Senate’ that he led for 33 years
Dec 28, 2020
Maryland Senator Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. – a man who has studied history throughout his life, and who made history as the country’s longest serving state senate president – announced Dec. 23 that he was resigning as a Maryland state senator due to cancer making him unable to fulfill those responsibilities.
“I’m stepping down as the senator from District 27,” he said in a Facebook Live press briefing that day. “I thought I could continue on. My mind is fine, but the cancer is in all my bones,” he said, explaining that his body was wracked with pain. “Physically, I’m not able to do the job. I have no strength in my right side. To be a state senator and do the job well, you’ve got to be available 24 hours a day, mentally as well as physically able, so I’m going to step down and submit my resignation.”
Miller, a 78 year-old native of Clinton, Maryland, had served as a Maryland state senator from 1975 until his resignation on Dec. 23, 2020, including as the president of the Maryland Senate from 1987 until January 2020, when he stepped down from that post after being diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer. According to the Washington Post, Miller’s 33 years leading Maryland’s Senate was longer than any other state senate leader in the country. The Miller Senate Office Building in Annapolis is named in his honor. He represented District 27, which includes Calvert, Charles and Prince George’s counties.
Before serving in Maryland’s Senate, Miller was a member of the Maryland House of Delegates from 1971-75, beginning a half-century of service in the state’s legislature.
In a Dec. 23 statement issued after Sen. Miller announced his resignation, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan praised the legacy of the veteran lawmaker, saying, “On behalf of a grateful state, I want to thank my good friend Senate President Emeritus Mike Miller for 50 incredible years of service to the people of Maryland.”
Gov. Hogan said Miller “will go down in our state’s history as a lion of the Senate.” The governor noted that, “I have known Mike since I was a kid, and it has been one of my greatest privileges as governor to serve alongside him.”
Closing his statement, the governor said, “The First Lady and I ask all Marylanders to join us in praying for Mike and his family.”
Also on Dec. 23, the Maryland Catholic Conference issued a statement thanking Sen. Miller, who is Catholic, for his work on behalf of those in need.
“Throughout his 50-year legislative career, Senator Mike Miller has been an unwavering partner in advocating for and advancing programs to support and lift up low-income families and children in Maryland,” the MCC statement said. “He continues to be a strong advocate for all Maryland students, whether they attend public or Catholic schools.”
Sen. Miller, along with Gov. Hogan, has been among Maryland leaders supporting Maryland’s BOOST (Broadening Options & Opportunities for Students Today) Scholarship Program, which the state’s legislature enacted in 2016 to give K-12 students from lower-income Maryland families an opportunity to find the best educational fit for their needs by awarding scholarships for their children to attend nonpublic school. During the 2019-20 school year, $7.5 million in BOOST scholarships were awarded to more than 3,000 students, including 1,200 students who were English language learners. BOOST recipients’ families reported an average household income of $32,999, and 57 percent of the students receiving those scholarships came from minority families.
Then-Maryland Senate President Miller addresses students attending a 2017 Nonpublic Schools Advocacy Day in Annapolis. Sen. Miller was a leading supporter of the Maryland BOOST scholarship program. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
In the Maryland Catholic Conference’s statement issued two days before Christmas, Timothy Maloney, a member of the MCC Administrative Board and a former state delegate, noted, “For half a century, Mike Miller provided unequaled service to the people of Maryland, always motivated by his faith and love of our state. On countless occasions, his leadership and counsel made all the difference for the work of the Maryland Catholic Conference. We celebrate his legacy and our thoughts are with him and his family during this holiest of seasons.”
The MCC statement closed by noting, “The Catholic bishops of Maryland and Maryland Catholic Conference staff have been praying for Senator Mike Miller throughout his illness. Our prayers for him and his family continue. May God be with them always.”
In his Facebook Live press briefing, Miller noted how he grew up in a family of 10 children, where his mother emphasized the importance of education and getting involved in politics. The retiring legislator said he learned the value of hard work by working long hours in B.K. Miller’s Store, his family’s general store, where he also learned the importance of helping customers and putting their needs first.
“I brought those attributes to the Senate of Maryland,” he said, highlighting those lessons that he learned in his family’s store about working hard and serving the public.
Miller said he was especially proud to have worked on legislation advancing educational opportunities in the state and protecting the Chesapeake Bay. He noted that he could see the bay from the window of his home, and had grown up near the bay and the Potomac and Patuxent rivers.
“I’ve fought hard over the years to bring back the rockfish, the canvasback ducks, the crabs, the oysters, making sure our children have a clean bay,” he said.
The longtime Maryland Senate president – who attended public school from the first through the 12th grade, graduating from Surrattsville High School in Clinton and later earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration and a law degree from the University of Maryland – said he hoped the state’s legislature can enact the improvements for public education recommended by the Kirwan Commission.
“I believe very strongly in education,” Miller said. “Everybody should have an equal opportunity for education, and we can make that happen if we find a way to pass the Kirwan proposal.”
Then-Maryland Senate President Miller addresses a 2017 Catholics in Annapolis gathering. The lifelong Catholic represented Calvert, Charles and Prince George's counties in the Maryland legislature for five decades before resigning his post on Dec. 23, 2020 due to the effects of cancer. (CS photo/Jaclyn Lippelmann)
When a reporter asked him how he faced new legislative challenges and kept up with the times, Miller said, “Well, I studied history. I never stopped studying history.” He noted that as he grew up, his aunts and uncles gave him books as gifts, and as a legislator, he read about how past leaders addressed issues, and how current leaders were facing issues in other states.
“Because I know what other leaders have done in similar situations, I’m able to find other alternatives to move forward,” he said.
The retired state senator emphasized the importance of politicians working together for the common good, at a time when people in the country are very divided. He noted how his successor, Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat from Baltimore City, “has reached out to the governor, a man of a different party who thinks differently.”
Miller added, “That’s what it takes – it takes Democrats and Republicans working together.” He noted how as president of Maryland’s Senate, “all 47 senators (were) treated equally, regardless of their political party and regardless of where they came from in terms of geography. I think that’s my legacy.”
He said the new generation of legislators in Annapolis are younger and more progressive in their views, and he joked that “now instead of people staying late at night in the bars or whatever, they’re drinking their water, because they have to jog the next morning.”
“It’s a younger group with some very progressive ideas. It’s a good time for me to step down, quite frankly,” Miller said, adding, “…We’re ready to move forward. It’s a different generation of elected officials, and we’re ready to move forward with this new generation and their new ideas.”
Miller, who has five children and 15 grandchildren, emphasized the importance of Maryland’s legislators looking to the future and working to improve life for the state’s residents.
“It’s going to take a national effort, but our state will be there to move forward in terms of health care, education and the environment,” he said.