First day in the final stretch


For someone starting a political career by plunging headlong into the climactic final weeks of the most tumultuous General Assembly session in years, Warren E. Miller's calm, good natured aplomb made him seem like a pro.

From schmoozing through a round of lobbyists' receptions Monday night to a House Economic Matters Committee meeting yesterday, Miller's first 24 hours as an elected official was a merry-go-round of new faces, give-away trinkets and housekeeping details.

"That sounds weird, 'Del. Warren Miller,' " he said. He was learning fast, though. "I'm starting to meet some people the second or third time" - and remember them, he said late in the day.

Miller, a 38-year-old conservative Republican management consultant whose family has deep roots in Howard County's farming past, was sworn in by Speaker Michael E. Busch on the floor of the House at 11:30 a.m. Monday.

He replaced Howard Del. Robert L. Flanagan, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s new transportation secretary.

His wife, Jane, and children, Laura, 4, and Clay, 2, his parents, Clayton and Evaline, his in-laws, Robert and Patricia Steinkraus, and their son, Karl, plus a few GOP officials watched. Immediately after the oath, lobbyist Bruce C. Bereano offered Miller the first of many trinkets - an official-looking plastic name tag and a congratulatory letter.

During Monday night's House of Delegates' session, Busch's announcement of Miller's arrival prompted a standing ovation from the other members.

He arrived exactly one week before the deadline for House action on next year's unresolved budget. Slot machine gambling, billion-dollar deficits and potentially painful cuts or tax increases are floating proposals, with each passing day increasing the pressure for action.

On his first day, Miller formally hired Rose LaVerghetta, a retired federal employee and former Republican Central Committee member as his aide, received his legislative identification card, and an all-important parking pass for a spot under the House office building. He is parking at a nearby hotel for now.

If the initial flurry of activity was light on legislative action, politics was clearly on the new delegate's mind.

Ehrlich is the name on his appointment certificate, Miller noted, and he intends to help the state's first Republican governor since Spiro T. Agnew be successful.

"That's why I wanted to come here - I don't think it would be much fun with a Democratic governor," he said.

In the midst of the chaos, Miller calmly handled everything from ushering his extended family around Annapolis, to avoiding questions from a group of African-American sorority women eager to hear a Republican's views on boosting education.

"It's my first day, and the governor advised me to take it all in and keep quiet," he told the women, smiling.

Fellow Howard Republican Del. Gail H. Bates, Miller's office mate and first-day guide, spoke for both by saying how important she, a former teacher, feels education is, and how proud she is that Maryland's first African-American lieutenant governor, Michael S. Steele, "is of my party."

But Bates diverged from Miller on slots. A Southern Baptist, she told Alpha Kappa Alpha members that she cannot support gambling, while Miller supports Ehrlich's plans.

A former appointments office employee in the Reagan and Bush administrations and a 1994 campaign manager for Republican U.S. Rep. Roscoe G. Bartlett, Miller won his new job by winning the votes of his fellow Howard County Central Committee members - though nearly all Howard Republican elected officials backed pollster Carol Arscott.

Miller may be a bit shy, but he can't hide. At 6 feet 4, 290 pounds, the state's newest delegate stands out, though he doesn't seem eager for attention.

An information technology consultant to federal agencies for Booz Allen and Hamilton, in McLean, Va., he is a resident of Woodbine in western Howard. An experienced GOP operative, he is used to being in the background as a source of reliable support - not the man in the spotlight.

Perhaps his least stressful task was an hour of quiet, one-on-one guidance from Ralph Matos, a state computer instructor, who issued Miller a laptop and a printer and showed him how the legislative software works.

"It's very different," he said about his new political role compared with his professional one.

Which is why Bates had to nudge Miller into standing during the Monday night session to publicly introduce his in-laws, who were in the House chamber. Miller voted "yea" on two uncontroversial bills and "present" for two quorum calls - despite his jokes all day to vote "no" on everything before the Democrat-dominated legislature. Then he watched the House spend most of its session time introducing Boy Scout troops, friends and relatives in the gallery.

Earlier, seeing demonstrators in Lawyers Mall in front of the State House, Miller's first instinct was to avoid them, though Bates counseled the opposite.

In Howard County, both sides of Miller's family have roots that go back into the last century, including distant relatives who served in public office. As a teen-ager, Clayton Miller said he lived on a farm where The Mall in Columbia sits.

Now a new generation of Millers is growing up in a very changed Howard County.

Young Laura, however, is unimpressed with high office, her mother, Jane, said. Since Laura met Ehrlich, his wife, Kendel, and their 3-year-old son, Drew, at Ehrlich's inauguration, she apparently considers him passe.

"I'd like to meet President Bush on Monday," she had announced before her Dad's swearing-in, assuming this would be simple to arrange.

Later, she and her younger brother posed for family pictures and explored the historic State House, relatives trailing patiently behind.

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