State Senate boss Miller jovial in Salisbury stop

There wasn’t anything in particular on his mind when Maryland Senate President Thomas V. Mike Miller spoke on Tuesday, just a smattering of thoughts.

He was in a jovial mood as he addressed a roomful of Salisbury Area Chamber of Commerce guests at a luncheon hosted by the Greater Salisbury Committee, easily accessible, sharing stories, posing for photographs, making jokes.

Before the Clinton, Md., native spoke,  state Sen. Jim Mathias entered the room and, in true form, began shaking hands and speaking to everyone, prompting Miller, a Democrat and 85th president of the Maryland Senate who assumed office in 1987, to say he’s in awe of Mathias’ energy and admires how hard he works for the Lower Eastern Shore.

He chatted with state Sen. Addie Eckardt, who was carrying a plate of lunch and offered to make one for him, but he declined, choosing instead to just sip iced tea.

Once introduced by Bill Chambers, the 74-year-old Miller talked about the beginning of his career, as a delegate from 1971-1975. He started his political career, he said, with local state Sens. Mary Nock, Sen. E. Homer White Jr. and Joe Long.

“I’ve got some great Joe Long stories. Then there was Lew Riley, then Lowell Stoltzfus and now we’ve got Jim Mathias. My two favorites are Lew Riley and Jim Mathias – Addie was never in that district. Lew Riley was a volunteer fireman. He was a farmer. He had an amazing personality. He had a Shore personality. When he left the senate, (former Maryland Gov.) William Donald Schaefer made him secretary of agriculture.

“And Jim Mathias is like the Energizer Bunny. You saw him work the room? That’s how he works the Senate. You can’t say anything bad about the Shore. He is of the Shore, for the Shore and he never stops … whether it’s Ocean City, the Convention Center or whether it’s jobs in Worcester County, he’s there. I’m just very appreciative of his hard work,” Miller said.

From the audience, Mathias smiled in appreciation.

“I’ve been around for a long time,” Miller said, reminiscing.

“I was good friends with (former President) William Jefferson Clinton. I hooked up with him in Arkansas. I said if you think you’re going to run for president, I’d like you to come to my district. When he got there, he met my mother. When he found out she was the mother of 10 adult children, all registered Democrats, he gravitated toward her immediately. At least I hope that’s why Bill Clinton gravitated toward her,” he joked.

“I’m just glad to be here with you. Our mayor (Jake Day) is here today. He wants a ton of money for Downtown Salisbury,” he said, as Day nodded and laughed.

“He has got a vision I have never seen before. It’s like New York City,” Miller said.

“I miss (former Maryland Delegate) Norm Conway. This is not a Republican or a Democratic event but I miss Norm. He is from the Eastern Shore. He made sure everything was fair. Also, he made sure the Eastern Shore got its fair share. He was a teacher, a fireman. The new delegate Carl (Anderton) is a fine guy but it takes a while to get seniority in a position like that,” he said.

Praising Maryland public schools he said he, the oldest of 10 children, attended them and they must be supported, especially in this age of technology.

“I came from a rural school … it was a very challenging area. I was an altar boy in church, if you can believe that. We had to borrow from a rich church. You had to depend upon the property tax,” he remembered.

“Technology is the answer to the future of our children. We can’t compete with Canada. We can’t compete with Poland, with Hungary, with China … we’ve fallen behind on STEM. We can do better.

“That’s what the finding is all around the United States. That’s what they’re going to recommend. You either pay it up front now or when they’re in prison … We need a trained work force. We need a better educated work force. Our community colleges now are in trades. We need to do better in terms of education, but you need to put the money in education,” he said.

Concerning Gov. Larry Hogan, Miller remembered first meeting him when he was a 5-year-old boy riding in the back seat of his father’s car. The senior Hogan, who died in April, was also a political figure.

“We don’t agree on everything but we try to work it out,” Miller said about the governor.

For instance, he disagrees with Hogan’s veto of the sick leave bill to provide paid sick time for businesses with at least 15 employees. “We’re going to continue to work on that. It’s going to come together,” he said.

Neither does he favor increasing the minimum wage to $15 per hour because, although the concept is admirable, it will cause those who earn less to lose their jobs so businesses can afford to pay higher wages, he said. “We need to not listen to the left or the right, but to stay in the middle,” he said.

“We’ve made major progress on the opiate problem. It’s a crisis. We passed two bills, the most far-reaching bills anywhere in the United States. Crisis centers, hotline centers, also educating parents about opiate abuse,” he said.

One man in the audience asked about the future of the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore. Miller said it will likely be transferred to Laurel. “The area needs the economic development and the race needs a bigger facility and Laurel is the place to make it happen,” he said.

With the same casualness as when he began speaking, Miller smiled, thanked the audience and stepped away from the podium to hearty applause.

Standing, Mathias thanked everyone for attending, praised Miller for his logic and willingness to help and said he and Eckhardt vote together the majority of the time “because we vote for the Eastern Shore.”

 

Reach Susan Canfora at scanfora@newszap.com.

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