Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Mike Miller is Not Going Anywhere

Recently, there has been a lot of speculation as to whether Senate President Mike Miller would stick to his earlier pledge to retire. We are putting this conjecture to rest with one bold prediction: Mike Miller is not going anywhere.

Have you ever met the Senate President? We did, back in January. The white-maned, snorting old bull stomps into any room he enters and instantly dominates it. But he does not radiate pomp or arrogance like many politicians. He instead relies on good-old-boy, Free State charm, delivered with a bellowing laugh and a rough handshake. Miller would be equally at home entertaining foreign dignitaries at the statehouse or slamming boilermakers down at the shipyard.

The Senate President regaled our group with tales of his dealings with the media. He expressed hope that the blogs could provide a bit of balance to right-wing radio “even though I know some of you are with me and some of you are against me.” And then he cast a long, baleful look around the room. Now I have heard from multiple sources that Miller is a blog reader. “Hmmm,” I thought, “Is he trying to figure out who wrote this?” Miller seemed a wee bit hurt, perhaps let down, that he could be so misunderstood by any of us. And that’s when it hit me: this is part of his bag of tricks.

Better than anyone, Mike Miller understands the volatile and fragile mix of ego, fear, hope, insecurity and the needy desire to be loved that defines most politicians. He knows how to push every one of those buttons. He praises obedient Senators as courageous. He predicts dire consequences for the wayward. He shuffles subcomittee chairmanships and vice-chairmanships like cards in an ever-winning hand. He elevates junior Senators above senior ones when they stick with the boss. A longtime Annapolis player told me, “We call him Big Daddy. When people screw up, he doesn’t get mad at them. Instead, he tells them he's ‘disappointed.’ No one wants to let Dad down.”

Miller is resented by many Montgomery County liberals because he is rabidly pro-slots and lukewarm at best on gay rights. But Miller is actually to the left of most of the county’s allegedly liberal delegation on progressive taxation. He also expressed his opposition to Virginia’s harsh immigration measures in our interview. Many liberals tend to forget that Miller has to balance a diverse group ranging from anti-tax Baltimore County Senator (and former Miller aide) James Brochin to left-wingers like Senators Paul Pinsky, Jamie Raskin and Rich Madaleno. Brochin and Madaleno are both in Miller’s doghouse now for different reasons, but they will get out eventually if they stop making trouble for the boss. That is part of Miller’s way.

What would a Miller-less Senate look like? For a preview, look at the Montgomery County Council’s current deliberations on its budget. Only a few days out from the first vote on the next budget’s outline, there was still no public agreement on how to cut the county’s $297 million deficit. The late Marilyn Praisner, the most feared head-breaker in Rockville, would have had none of that. Would this sort of thing happen to Maryland’s Senate without its fearsome overlord?

Mike Miller is surrounded by a huge group of Senate allies, aides, former aides, lobbyists, former aides who are now lobbyists and many others who are commonly referred to as his “family.” They depend on him and cannot imagine Annapolis without him. They are undoubtedly urging him to stay on because, after all, no one can do the job of Senate President as well as their Dad (or Grand-dad) can. If you were in Miller’s position, how could you say no to your entire family?

The fact is that Big Daddy is the most powerful politician in Maryland's nearly 400-year history to never occupy the Governor's chair. And whatever you may think of him, Mike Miller is not going anywhere.