Miller willing to get involved in local issues

The Political Game

Targets: The Senate president is using state legislation against an Anne Arundel County supermarket proposal and a plan for a rubble fill in Prince George's.

March 27, 2001|By Thomas W. Waldron | Thomas W. Waldron,SUN STAFF

AS PRESIDENT of the Maryland Senate, Thomas V. Mike Miller is generally known as the guy with the gavel when the Senate deals with statewide issues such as gun control or gay rights.

But Miller has always found time to deal with local issues. This year is no exception, and, as usual, Miller is playing to win by using state legislation to block projects he doesn't like back home.

On one front, Miller has run up against Anne Arundel County Executive Janet S. Owens by introducing a bill that would effectively stop the construction of a supermarket and a strip shopping center in the waterfront community of Deale.

On another, Miller is in a fierce battle with a Prince George's County development company that wants to build a rubble fill in part of his district in southern Prince George's.

Unfortunately for the developer, Miller has decided the rubble fill is a bad idea, and he's put in a bill that would effectively stop it as well.

But this time, Miller is running into an ornery opponent in William H. Natter Jr., the president of the development company.

Last week, Natter filed a complaint with the legislature's joint ethics committee, contending that Miller has gone over the line on the rubble fill issue by allegedly threatening two lobbyists Natter hired or planned to hire in an effort to kill the bill.

In one case, Miller told lobbyist Gary R. Alexander that he was "not welcome" in Miller's office as long as he represented the company, according to Natter's complaint with the ethics committee.

Soon after that reported meeting, Alexander resigned as lobbyist for Natter's company and returned the retainer he had received.

The company then asked Bruce C. Bereano to sign on as lobbyist. After meeting with Miller on the issue, Bereano also turned down the work.

Bereano reported that Miller threatened to kill bills sought by Bereano's other clients, according to Natter.

"The ... series of events ... raise serious questions about Senator Miller's motivations in his dealings surrounding the rubble fill legislation," Natter wrote to the ethics committee. "His behavior has gone beyond that of normal politics, and has become personal."

Alexander said he resigned the lobbying job over a "very divergent view" of how to lobby the bill. Bereano denied that Miller had threatened his clients' bills, but declined to discuss the matter in detail.

Miller denied threatening any lobbyists. But in a combative statement, he called Natter's complaint "frivolous," and referred to Natter as "unprincipled and unscrupulous."

"If fighting for my constituents is considered a breach of ethics, I wear the badge proudly," Miller's statement said.

It is unclear if the ethics committee will get around to hearing the complaint before the General Assembly adjourns in two weeks. It's a good bit clearer that Miller will win the legislative wars over the two projects.

Democrats seem ready to rumble in 8th District

The Democrats smell blood. That's the only explanation for what's happening in the 8th Congressional District in Montgomery County.

A couple weeks ago, Del. Mark K. Shriver unofficially began his campaign for the seat in next year's election with news that last year's Democratic candidate, Terry Lierman, would not run again and would support Shriver.

Last week, Sen. Christopher Van Hollen Jr., another Montgomery Democrat, all but declared his candidacy.

Van Hollen, an 11-year veteran of the legislature from Kensington, announced the creation of what he termed a "powerhouse" exploratory committee in anticipation of a run for the seat. He was joined for the announcement by a couple of top Democrats - Mike Miller and former U.S. Sen. Dale Bumpers, an Arkansan who now lives in Bethesda.

Van Hollen's committee also includes dozens of Montgomery County activists and community leaders.

Democrats believe that the longtime Republican incumbent, Rep. Constance A. Morella, is vulnerable next year, after Lierman's near-miss last year.

The question that some Democrats are asking, though, is: Will a bloody primary hurt the party's chances of knocking off Morella in the general election?

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