Mike Miller to find out which pols are pals

January 12, 1995|By Frank A. DeFilippo

THIS COULD BE the winter of State Senate President Thomas V. "Mike" Miller's discontent.

Parris Glendening, the new governor, is a fellow Prince George's County resident and Mike Miller's sworn political adversary. Through reapportionment, retirement and outright defeat, Mr. Miller has lost many of his Senate cronies and allies. Nearly half the senators are newcomers. And for anyone who monitors noise levels, the Senate, as an institution, lacks the control and internal discipline of the House of Delegates.

Moreover, the Republican population in the Senate has increased from six to 15 in the 47-member body, leaving Mr. Miller in the position of having to deal with the newly muscular GOP not only as a bloc but also as individual senators when passing out critical committee assignments. Mr. Miller has already appointed the highly regarded Republican, Sen. John A. Cade, as chairman of a key budget subcommittee.

To wit, Mr. Miller's predecessor, mentor and staunch buddy, Lt. Gov. Melvin "Mickey" Steinberg, is no longer Maryland's second banana who's been ready with a lifeline when the treading gets rough.

Get one thing straight right up front, Mr. Miller's Senate presidency, the post he's held since 1987, is in no way threatened. On that point he's lucky. There's simply nobody in a position to challenge him.

But in one of those toothsome ironies, patronage will no longer flow to Prince George's County through Mr. Miller but now will be dispensed by Mr. Glendening, the county's first governor since Oden Bowie in 1867. This in itself denies Mr. Miller the power of the purse as well as of persuasion.

Even Mr. Glendening, though he might nurture such a fantasy, knows better than to take on the Senate's presiding officer unless he's absolutely certain he has the votes to finish the job. The power of the Senate president is awesome.

Nonetheless, 1995 could be Mr. Miller's most trying and difficult session if for no other reason than his support and pledges of allegiance are wearing thin. The question is: How long will the honeymoon last?

He's lost his Senate president pro tem, the amiable geezer, retiring Sen. Frederick C. Malkus Jr. And he's lost three key committee leaders -- Laurence Levitan, chairman of the Budget and Taxation Committee, James P. Simpson (vice chairman) and Thomas P. O'Reilly, chairman of the Finance Committee.

Other Miller loyalists who'll be on the outside peeking in include: Patricia Sher and Mary Boergers of Montgomery County; Gerald W. Winegrad, of Anne Arundel County; Beatrice Tignor of Prince George's County; and American Joe Miedusiewski of Baltimore City.

Mr. Miller's most serious loss was, perhaps Mr. Levitan, his point man on all fiscal matters in the Senate. Heading the rap sheet on Mr. Miller is that he knows not, and cares not, about the budget -- the state's principal policy document. Mr. Levitan was knighted to fill the breach, which he had done from 1979 until his defeat in November.

Mr. Miller is a boisterous product of the rough-and-tumble politics of Prince George's County. He was first elected to the House of Delegates in 1971 and moved to the Senate in 1975 where he worked his way through the ranks as chairman of the Judicial Proceedings Committee and, finally, to the Senate presidency with a mighty assist from Mr. Steinberg.

Mr. Miller's a walking sound bite. He's never met a microphone he didn't like. He's spent the past eight years sniping at Gov. William Donald Schaefer and snarling at former House Speaker R. Clayton Mitchell Jr.

So intense did the dithyrambic debate become that Mr. Schaefer and Mr. Mitchell ultimately formed a close working alliance and completely isolated Mr. Miller from the Annapolis power triangle on matters of policy, patronage and protocol.

And the music of democracy is likely to swell with the coming of a new unseasoned administration. If Mr. Miller once characterized Mr. Schaefer as "spending like a drunken sailor," hear what he's had to say about Mr. Glendening.

Mr. Miller once accused Mr. Glendening of employing the "big lie" technique of the Nazi propaganda machine. He also said that Mr. Glendening brought to mind the old adage: "The higher up a tree a baboon climbs, the more he shows of his a--."

And only last year Mr. Miller said of Mr. Glendening, "You can't trust him. His word is no good."

Critics of Mr. Miller's style complain that he's long on politics and short on substance. Also, he often can't be counted on to do what he says he will.

To survive in the Annapolis hothouse, Mr. Miller's relied heavily on loyalty. For in the wacky world of the Senate there are only two forms of currency -- your word and your vote.

To these Mr. Miller's added a third. Last year he -- as did House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. -- channeled thousands of dollars from his own overstuffed war chest into the campaigns of friendly senators and candidates.

Now Mr. Miller's about to find out whether the investments paid off.

Frank A. DeFilippo writes on Maryland politics from Owings Mills.

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