Maryland Senate President Emeritus Thomas V. Mike Miller was larger than life, a brash and bold politician, an intimidating power broker.
But to those who knew him in the state’s upper chamber — both allies and opponents — Miller was a deep thinker, a kind mentor, a loyal friend.
“He was an exceptional human being, one of a kind in many ways. Tough and gruff, smart as a whip — but also kind and considerate of others when he wanted to be,” said U.S. Rep. Steny Hoyer, a former Democratic state senator who paid tribute Friday to the late Miller.
Miller, a Democrat who served nearly 50 years in Maryland politics and led the Senate for more than three decades, died Jan. 15 of cancer. His casket was brought Thursday night to Annapolis to lie in repose in the State House rotunda. Among those who paid their respects Friday to Miller was U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native who spent several minutes with Miller’s family.
For more than two hours Friday, current and former senators shared stories about Miller in the marble chamber that he loved. It was part memorial service and part group therapy session, as they traded tales of political battles and tender moments. Owing to the coronavirus pandemic, there were no family members or guests, just the senators, a few staffers and journalists. Former senators submitted their remarks via videos.
Robert Neall, whose long career in politics representing both parties included time in the Senate, called Miller “the most fascinating person I ever met” with unending energy, an impressive intellect, a sense of humor and a command of profanity that was “a true art form.”
Neall said he was always impressed with the love and support Miller had from his wife, Patti. “It had to be difficult to live with a human cyclone,” Neall said in his video.
Sen. Katie Fry Hester recalled she was shocked when she learned she’d be seated next to Miller when she was elected in 2018. She told Miller’s chief of staff that there must be a mistake. There was no mistake. The Senate president wanted to mentor the freshman Democratic senator from Howard County.
“I said: ‘I’m honored to sit next to you.’ He’d say: ‘I’m honored to sit next to you.’ And he meant it,” she said.
As his cancer spread and Miller was in increasing pain, he stepped down as Senate president before the 2020 session. That meant he spent more time in his regular desk, with Hester on one side and Democratic Sen. Cory McCray of Baltimore on the other side.
While Miller was known as an amateur historian who often held court telling historical stories, he was also a keen student, McCray said. Miller was always learning about policy issues, learning about senators, trying to understand what made people tick.
“That is one of the greatest students that you could watch,” McCray said.
Over his career, Miller presided as the state legalized same-sex marriages (which he voted against), resumed legal gambling and ended the death penalty. He championed improvements to the Chesapeake Bay and public education and pressed for renovations in the State House.
Sen. Douglas Peters said Miller’s passion for the University of Maryland was extraordinary. In addition to keeping an eye out for his alma mater in the state budget, he took an interest in recruiting for the Terrapins. Once, Peters said, Miller asked him to enlist his son to lobby high school classmates to join the Terps.
Peters, a Prince George’s County Democrat, said he would join Miller on trips to watch games featuring promising athletes. He considered that part of the “all other duties as assigned” aspect of being a senator.
Republicans spoke of Miller’s willingness to hear them out and help them when he could, especially on issues in their districts.
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“His door was always open,” said Sen. George Edwards, a Republican from Western Maryland. “Which is great. That’s what a good leader does: Talks to the people he leads to get input from them.”
Gov. Larry Hogan was the only non-senator to speak at the ceremony, looking out from the rostrum to a portrait of Miller on the back wall, draped in a black cloth.
“He is staring at me, right now, with that smile of his, that twinkle in his blue eyes,” the Republican governor said. “I’ve seen that look many times over the years, like he’s going to lambaste me if I go off course and say something too partisan.”
Despite being from different parties, Hogan and Miller are both “two Prince George’s County boys” who made it to top positions in government. Hogan said the two were friends, having known each other for decades.