Baltimore rises as a gi­ant of the Se­nate steps down

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD -

Thomas V. Mike Miller’s an­nounce­ment Thurs­day that he is re­lin­quish­ing his post as Se­nate pres­i­dent is an his­toric mo­ment to be sure. The 76-year-old has presided over his cham­ber like a lion man­ag­ing his pride, out­last­ing, out-ma­neu­ver­ing, out­work­ing all chal­lengers ses­sion af­ter ses­sion, gov­er­nor af­ter gov­er­nor. Nat­u­rally, it had to take as fierce an en­emy as can­cer to un­seat him from a throne he has oc­cu­pied for an ex­tra­or­di­nary 32 years. Whether ally or po­lit­i­cal en­emy, no one should have ever doubted the man’s abil­ity to in­flu­ence events in this state, whether it’s the le­gal­iza­tion of slot ma­chines or adding a casino to Prince Ge­orge’s County or rein­ing in the Demo­cratic Party’s most pro­gres­sive in­stincts in fa­vor of Miller brand South­ern Mary­land cen­trism. And more about all of that in a mo­ment.

But first there’s the mat­ter of his suc­ces­sor, Baltimore’s own Bill Fer­gu­son. To sug­gest that Charm City has sud­denly re­ceived a ma­jor gift of good po­lit­i­cal for­tune is an un­der­state­ment on par with ob­serv­ing that Baltimore steamed crabs taste pretty good. At a time when this city is look­ing for help from the Gen­eral Assem­bly, most par­tic­u­larly in the form of aid to strug­gling schools promised by the Kir­wan Com­mis­sion, who should be in a key po­si­tion to de­liver on that but a city law­maker who once taught in one of Baltimore’s most chal­lenged high schools. Sen­a­tor Fer­gu­son may have a some­what youth­ful ap­pear­ance (he’s all of 36 years old, which means his pre­de­ces­sor served his first two terms in the state Se­nate be­fore he was even born), but he is smart, savvy and ready to do bat­tle with Repub­li­can Larry Ho­gan over the Kir­wan ed­u­ca­tion re­forms that the gov­er­nor has de­scribed as “half-baked.”

Add Sen­a­tor Fer­gu­son’s sur­prise vic­tory to the re­cent as­cen­sion of House Speaker Adri­enne A. Jones, the 64-year-old Baltimore County del­e­gate who took over af­ter the death of Michael Busch ear­lier this year, and the Baltimore re­gion has an in­flu­ence in the Gen­eral Assem­bly not seen since Baltimore na­tives Ben Cardin and Melvin “Mickey” Stein­berg served as House speaker and Se­nate pres­i­dent in the 1980s. That is noth­ing short of amaz­ing given the growth of the D.C. sub­urbs, and the clout of Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties. It’s a trib­ute to Sen­a­tor Fer­gu­son’s po­lit­i­cal acu­men and, per­haps, to Mr. Miller’s sheer dom­i­nance on the Se­nate stage, which gave lit­tle op­por­tu­nity for a more vet­eran ri­val to de­velop over the years.

Still, it’s hard to be­lieve Sen­a­tor Miller will not con­tinue to have sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence in ma­jor de­ci­sions at the com­mit­tee level and the floor if only through force of per­son­al­ity, not to men­tion a legacy so cel­e­brated they named the Se­nate of­fice build­ing af­ter him — two decades ago. Mary­land school chil­dren will read about him for gen­er­a­tions to come. Thank good­ness they won’t hear it in the orig­i­nal, some­what salty, lan­guage that Mr. Miller is known to use be­hind closed doors. Yes, he can be coarse (hav­ing once called Baltimore a “god­damn ghetto” in front of a TV re­porter). And yes, he can be hot-tem­pered (hav­ing ex­horted his fel­low Democrats dur­ing the Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. era to bury the Repub­li­can Party “six feet deep, with faces up”), but let no one un­der­es­ti­mate his abil­ity to form a coali­tion, work the in­tri­ca­cies of the leg­isla­tive process, raise cam­paign funds for his sup­port­ers and gov­ern a cham­ber that is in­her­ently the more chal­leng­ing to lead, given the power vested in in­di­vid­ual se­na­tors com­pared to del­e­gates.

Mike Miller is old school, ab­so­lutely. Bill Fer­gu­son is cer­tain to be dif­fer­ent in both style and agenda. Will his elec­tion to the podium sig­nal a se­ri­ous push to more pro­gres­sive poli­cies — one that Mr. Miller long re­sisted for fear of los­ing swing seats out­side his party’s ur­ban stronghold­s? Has Gov­er­nor Ho­gan lost his key deal-maker in the leg­is­la­ture? We won’t be so quick to make those as­sump­tions. It’s one thing to in­herit a throne from this lion in win­ter, it’s quite an­other to ig­nore what he has wrought.

JOSHUA MCKERROW/BALTIMORE SUN ME­DIA

Long­time Se­nate Pres­i­dent Thomas V. Mike Miller an­nounced Thurs­day that he is step­ping down from his post. State Democrats have se­lected Baltimore Sen. Bill Fer­gu­son, seated be­hind Miller, to re­place him.

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