The truce is stranger than fiction Politics: Gov. Parris N. Glendening and Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. are familiar foes who have become strange bedfellows.

July 22, 1996|By William F. Zorzi Jr. | William F. Zorzi Jr.,SUN STAFF

When Gov. Parris N. Glendening blessed the appointment of Thomas V. Miller III to a $56,000-a-year seat on the Maryland Parole Commission last week, it amazed elected officials and political observers alike.

It seemed nearly inconceivable to some that Glendening would award such a plum patronage job to the son of his one-time arch-enemy, Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller Jr. -- a fellow Prince George's County Democrat who once said, "We need an honest governor, which rules out Parris."

"I was shocked, really," said one longtime legislative staff member. "I can't see [the elder] Miller going hat in hand to Glendening; he'd rather see his kid starve. That's not Miller."

But, in a sense, it is Miller -- the new, kinder, gentler Miller, at least in terms of his once-frosty relationship with Glendening. Some say the difference is the middle-age mellowing of Miller, 53, the sometimes hot-tempered, sometimes profane but always colorful legislator who has presided over the Senate for the last nine of his 25 years in the Maryland General Assembly.

Others, including Glendening, say they believe he has become a team player for the sake of the state and the party.

"Mike knows that when I became governor, my well-being became synonymous with the state," Glendening said in an interview last week. "If I fail, the state's in trouble. If I fail, the Democratic Party's in trouble."

Miller echoed a similar theme about his born-again relationship with Glendening during the governor's first 18 months.

He acknowledges "how people could perceive a change" in him, but he is far from ready to admit that he has completely buried the hatchet with his one-time enemy.

"The governor and I have never been friends, never been close companions, never been more than just campaign buddies," Miller said of the former three-term Prince George's county executive.

The apparent change in Miller may have been born of necessity, a matter of his trying to maintain a balance of power among the triumvirate of Maryland government -- the governor and the presiding officers of the General Assembly's two houses -- particularly since House Speaker Casper R. Taylor Jr. has become the harsher critic of Glendening.

In that equation, knowing that two beats one every time, the governor needs an ally in one of the presiding officers.

"What I saw after the governor's first year in office was that we had a governor who wanted to do what was best for the state of Maryland, but who had become mired in a quagmire of distractions," Miller said of Glendening's rocky start in Annapolis.

"This was a governor who came into office without any political capital to get his programs passed," he said.

Enter Mike Miller, political venture capitalist.

For whatever reason, or combination of reasons, Miller has emerged as adviser to the governor on matters legislative and as the carrier of political water for him in the Senate.

Sen. Barbara A. Hoffman, the Baltimore Democrat who chairs the powerful Budget and Taxation Committee, said she believes "the president has been absolutely correct in dealing with him."

'What's done is done'

"Whatever he thinks personally, Mike's been very, very careful because, let's face it, Mike cares about the Democratic Party retaining control of the legislature and the governor's mansion," she said. "The governor and Mike are both pragmatists and they're going to work together, even though I don't think they like each other very much."

John R. Stierhoff, Miller's former chief legislative aide and now a lobbyist, looks at it philosophically.

"What's done is done. The guy's governor and Mike's still president of the Senate," Stierhoff said. "To what end does it serve to have the governor wake up each morning and find Mike [denigrating] him on the radio?"

The role is new for Miller, the outspoken, sometimes bad boy of the General Assembly.

In the past, Miller had a tendency to lead with his chin, usually while his jaw was moving, a trait that led to more than one `D embarrassing episode -- such as calling Baltimore "a goddamn ghetto."

During the 1994 Democratic primary for governor, he supported former Lt. Gov. Melvin A. Steinberg and regularly roasted Glendening in a way that went beyond election-year politics.

"He doesn't keep his word," Miller said of Glendening during the campaign. "In politics, as in life, you get to know who you can trust very quickly."

On the surface, Miller and Glendening appear as different as Mutt and Jeff -- Miller, a lawyer and experienced legislator; Glendening, a college professor and self-styled "policy wonk." But at the core, each is a pure political animal, more alike than not.

For years, they have carried on a bitter war though neither man will be specific about its origins.

Glendening attributed their problems to normal political tensions between state and local officials. Miller agreed but indicated that it was larger than that.

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