The king has not left his building

June 06, 2008|By JEAN MARBELLA

Mike Miller was explaining why, after winning re-election to the state Senate in 2006, he decided it would be his last term. The campaign had been particularly bitter and divisive, and he was offended by tactics that included circulating a picture that depicted him as a king.

And I'm thinking, what, they got the color of the robes wrong? The crown wasn't big enough?

Miller has never seemed like someone who would consider being called king an insult. It's not necessarily inaccurate, for one thing, given the power Miller has wielded in the ego- and intrigue-filled kingdom of Annapolis. Oh, there's that guy over in the governor's mansion and the fellow who heads that other chamber of the State House, but for sheer arm-twisting and deal-brokering prowess - handled with a certain comfort and even relish - it's hard to beat Maryland's Senate President for Life.

In any event, Miller made it official Wednesday: He's going to run for another term, after all, in 2010.

It's a rare officeholder who can announce a re-election bid in a building that bears his name. But that's what Miller did, holding a news conference in the Thomas V. Mike Miller Senate Office Building, an event at which he was alternately emotional and jovial, combative and reflective.

"You get old," the 65-year-old Miller said by way of explaining how he has teared up of late when talking about his career. "You've got so many memories of people who have passed on. You stand on their shoulders."

At a time of increasingly buttoned-down, technocratic politicians, Miller remains old-school garrulous, prone to squeezing elbows and slapping backs. He was his usual voluble self Wednesday, spinning off so many anecdotes within stories and historical asides in the midst of personal observations that even he sometimes lost track of his discourse.

"What was your question again, Laura?" he had to ask The Sun's Laura Smitherman, whose query about any heirs apparent triggered a tale about the late state Sen. Clarence Blount being surprised to find books about Hitler in Miller's extensive personal library - the moral of the story being that one needs to understand evil in order to deal with it - before drawing an actual answer. (Yes, there are several heirs apparent for Senate president, but not necessarily for senator to represent his district in Prince George's and Calvert counties.)

Miller said he initially decided to leave at the end of his term after tiring of the increasingly rancorous tone of campaigning, and the "stalemate" that he felt in Annapolis during the previous administration of Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.

"I said to myself, 'Do I need this?'" he said.

Apparently, the answer is yes, especially now that he is "energized" by Ehrlich's successor, Gov. Martin O'Malley, and enjoying a more harmonious working relationship with his General Assembly counterpart and sometime combatant, House Speaker Michael E. Busch.

The question now is not so much what Miller needs, but what he wants. After 21 years as Senate president, the avid history buff already had his own place in the record books: He apparently has served in that capacity longer than anyone else in the state or nation. He's the Cal Ripken of his field at this point.

Additionally, with the slots referendum on the ballot this November, the issue that has long been the obsession of Annapolis, with Miller as its staunchest proponent, is finally headed toward some sort of conclusion.

So what's keeping him? Miller didn't identify any specific issues, and he rejected suggestions that it was either slots or the recent woes of one of those heirs apparent - Budget and Taxation Committee Chairman Ulysses Currie, who is being investigated in an FBI probe.

The closest Miller got to explaining his sticking around came when he compared himself to an actor: "You have to have a good exit."

At this point, having pushed, with O'Malley and Busch, the highly unpopular tax increases of last year's special session, perhaps Miller is loath to have that among the last entries in his personal political history. Miller acknowledged the toll on O'Malley, in particular, who has seen his poll numbers plummet in the wake of the higher taxes, and the Senate president pledged to "get his ratings" back up.

Ah, now there's a task that could take some time, even for a king.

But then, as a fellow royal once said, "Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown."

jean.marbella@baltsun.com

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